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3 Ways to Stay Healthy When Your Kids Are Sick

Your home is full of sneezes and sniffles. Here’s how to dodge the flu bullet.

Kids may be adorable, cuddly, crazy, and cute, but they are also germy. “If you’ve got kids, get ready to be sick,” says Charles Gerba, Ph.D., a microbiologist who studies germs at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “You are twice as likely to get a cold or flu once you have kids as before. More kids, more likely.” In fact, a study by the University of Utah School of Medicine found that in families with one child, someone in the home is sick 33 percent of the year. Two kids? More than half the year. How do you guarantee that the someone isn’t you? Simple: “ship the kids off to the grandparents!’” says Gerba with a laugh. Or, more realistically, try these three tactics.

Disinfect Daily

Your strongest weapon against viruses is a disinfectant wipe. Use it on all surfaces in your child’s bedroom, the car, or any other kid-friendly space. “Wipe down surfaces with a disinfectant — nightstands, tabletops, even ones you might not think about, like lampshades,” says Gerba. It takes only a few hours for 90 percent of the surfaces a sick person comes in contact with to be covered with a virus, he explains. Cold and flu germs linger for several days; if your child has a stomach virus, those germs can hang around for a week or more!

Note: Do not re-use a disinfectant wipe on multiple surfaces, as you will simply transfer viruses from one spot to the next. Wipe and toss; repeat.

Germ-Proof Your Bathroom

You might be able to keep kids out of your bedroom, but bathrooms are shared spaces and a likely spot for you to pick up your child’s sniffles. Start by replacing all hand towels with paper towels for the duration of the sickness. If your environmental conscience finds the idea of disposable paper offensive, consider giving your child his own cloth towel that they — and only they — will use while sick.

Also, skip the bar soap. “You never see bar soap in public restrooms,” Gerba points out. “Why? Because they are germ magnets. Public bathrooms use liquid soap, and you should too when your kids are sick.” (If you’re extra paranoid, you can even press the pump through a paper towel so as to avoid contact with the bottle entirely.)

Wash on Hot

Yes, using cold water in your laundry machine is slightly more energy efficient. However, it’s also significantly less germ-resistant, so you decide. “Go for hot water and high heat in the dryer,” Gerba says. “The high temperatures will kill most cold and flu germs but cold water will do nothing.” (In fact, cold water alone does a better job of spreading germs from one garment to the next than it does getting rid of them, according to one study.) The real weapon here is the dryer: Research shows you need temps above 140 degrees for the most effective germ-killing.