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How to Stay Well When Your Kids Are Sick

Now that I'm a mom, I often wish I owned one of those head-to-toe protective suits that scientists wear when working with super-germs. In the past five years, my husband and I have battled everything from coughs and colds to pinkeye and stomach bugs  -- all seeming to have originated with our sons, ages 5 and 3.

If your child's in daycare or school, or you belong to a playgroup, there's only so much you can do to protect him from catching whatever's going around. And when he does catch it, you're at a real disadvantage simply by being in direct, regular contact with him. But are you doomed to get sick? Not necessarily. Keeping your immunity up in general puts you ahead of the game. Beyond that, taking steps to control the infection at the onset can actually up your odds of staying well (and keeping the rest of your family healthy). What you can do to stave off some common kid bugs:

Stomach bugs
The main culprit: the rotavirus, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea in kids under 5. It doesn't pose a threat to grown-ups because most have had it by early childhood, so you're not likely to get as severely ill as kids are. Two stomach bugs that can make adults sick are the Norwalk-like virus and giardiasis, a parasitic infection. Norwalk can produce low-grade fever, headache, vomiting, and diarrhea; it's found in uncooked foods, raw fruits and vegetables, and contaminated water. Daycare centers are common breeding grounds for the parasite that causes giardiasis. Symptoms include diarrhea and stomach cramps.

Infection control Because giardiasis is highly contagious and can stay in the stool for several weeks after the diarrhea's over, have your child wash her hands before every meal and make sure she doesn't share cups, utensils, snacks, toys, etc.

Self-defense Wash your hands thoroughly every time you change a diaper or help with a potty visit. Wipe potentially contaminated areas, including changing table, diaper bin, toilet, and favorite toys, with a solution of one part bleach to ten parts water a few times a day. Toss soiled clothing or linens into the laundry right away; regular detergent will do the trick.

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