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Stop Those Germs!

"It's all a blur to me now."

That's how Anne-Marie Welsh, a mom of three, recalls last Thanksgiving at her house in Erie, Pennsylvania. Her husband was lying sick on the sofa, one child sick on the love seat, and the other sick in a sleeping bag on the family room floor. "If the drugstore had a prize for the most prescriptions ordered in a single day, I'd have won it. People in line behind me had to wait while I picked up eight different medications for everything from strep throat to ear infections to bronchitis."

Welcome to cold-and-flu season, family style. If it's not a single bug that takes out family member after family member, it's a single kid who catches germ after germ. You know the deal: Your child is barely recovering from a cold when he gets a stomach flu; still weak from the flu when he comes down with strep throat; just off the antistrep antibiotics when he gets another cold, which turns into an ear infection, which lasts until a new bout of sneezing announces yet another cold.

Toddlers and preschoolers catch six to ten colds and between one and four stomach viruses every year -- and those with siblings or in group care are even more prone to picking up viruses, says Tim Peters, M.D., a pediatric infectious-disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical School, in Nashville. Factor in bacterial illnesses, like many ear infections, and you could be looking at months of sickness at a time.

Your kids will share their germs freely with you too, of course! Studies confirm what every mom knows: Once you have a kid, you're always catching something. The fact is, there's more to catch. Just when you've recovered from the cold your child brought from daycare, she's home with another. And while some viruses are contagious for only a day or two, others can be infectious for as many as five days before your child shows any symptoms of illness.

Fortunately, your family can break the cycle of colds and flu. With these simple measures, you and your kids can avoid sharing every bug that comes around:

Contributing editor Margaret Renkl can be found in Tennessee, often wiping the nose of one or more of her three kids.