The fight against swine flu has come to this: Health officials have enlisted the help of Sesame’s lovable (OK, squeaky) Elmo character to teach kids how to stay healthy.

“Come on! Practice washing your hands with Elmo! Wash, wash, wash, wash, wash, waaash!” the fuzzy red Sesame Street puppet sings in a new television spot also featuring the human character Gordon. “Sneeze into your arm with Elmo,” the muppet adds. “Ah-choo!”

Bracing for flu season, health officials have teamed up with Sesame Workshop to create four 20- and 30-second public service announcements that stress healthy habits -- like washing your hands, sneezing into the bend of your arm and not touching your face -- as a way to stop swine flu.

Simple, maybe. But the ads are sure to reach legions of loyal Sesame Street fans around the world. And who better to deliver the message than the Muppet toddlers adore?

“Elmo can be a powerful messenger,” said Sesame Workshop CEO Gary Knell.

Indeed, health officials first tapped Elmo in May to create a campaign teaching hand washing and the like. As panic over swine flu escalated, the folks at Sesame responded to the outbreak in Mexico, creating four ads starring “Muppets of Plaza Sésamo” and several celebrities. Now American health officials have repackaged the Elmo spots to target swine flu here.

“We are thrilled to partner with Elmo, Gordon and Sesame Workshop again,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said, in announcing the ads. “Younger children and their parents are some of the people most at risk from the new H1N1 flu virus,” she said. (Previously, Sebelius used a plush Teddy Roosevelt mascot to teach hand washing -- a trick “so easy even Teddy can do” it, she said.)

President Obama also touted Elmo’s simple tips. “Stay home if you’re sick. Wash your hands frequently,” he said. “I know it sounds simple, but it’s important and it works.”

But cynics who want serious solutions to the swine flu problem think it’s a rotten idea. Just ask Oscar the Grouch. 

So gather the kids, load the site, and just add soap and water.

See also:

Hand washing