Don't Let Germs Rule Your Household This Winter

Jason Tatka, DO

Children fill your home with laughter, love – and respiratory infections.

The bigger the family, the more time each year its members spend sniffling and sneezing, a study from the University of Utah found. Single people develop an average of 2.5 viral infections each year, researchers found. Meanwhile, in households with six kids, each child and grown-up can expect to catch 10 such illnesses.

More Offspring, More Illness

For the yearlong study, Utah researchers asked families to report symptoms of illness. They also collected swabs of nasal mucus to test for the presence of viruses.

Families without children host viruses in their homes about four weeks per year. Having just one child means someone is sick about 18 weeks of the year; with two kids, it’s 29 weeks. And for families with six kids, nine of every 10 weeks finds at least one member coping with cough, cold or flu.

Prevent germs from spreading to other family members

Limit contact: Keep sick kids in a separate room from others, when possible. Assign one person to serve as a caregiver. Others should limit their contact.

Cover your cough: Teach children to cough or sneeze into a tissue instead of their hands. Toss used tissues immediately after use.

Adopt healthy hand-washing habits: Teach kids to scrub with soap and water for 20 seconds – about the time it takes to sing two rounds of “Happy Birthday.”

Show caring by NOT sharing: Don't share pacifiers, pens, computers, drinking cups, utensils, towels, toothbrushes or any item that can spread germs to one another.

Keep it clean: Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys, doorknobs and phones. Use soap and water or a bleach-and-water solution. Wash laundry in hot water.

Keep Viruses Contained

So why do bigger families breed more germs? Droplets of saliva or mucus can carry the flu virus up to three feet. Once they land, viruses can survive up to eight hours. So one sick kid spewing germs in the air can bring a whole family down.

“Fortunately, there are ways you can prevent these illnesses from running wild in your household,” says pediatrician Jason Tatka, DO. “Using these strategies when someone in your home gets a cold or flu virus can prevent it from spreading to other family members.”

Young children, especially those younger than age 5, can face serious complications from illnesses like the flu, Dr. Tatka says.

“Seeing your child’s primary care provider, who already knows your child’s medical history, is best when an illness is causing concern,” advises Dr. Tatka.

To find a Rainbow pediatrician or schedule an appointment with one today, call 216-UH4-KIDS or visit

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