Since 80 percent of infections are passed through direct and indirect contact (getting sneezed on, sharing utensils, even cuddling), this is the perfect time to get in touch with your inner clean freak.
With all the bodily functions going on in there, the bathroom can be ground zero for germs. If possible, give your sick child her own designated bathroom for the duration of her illness, especially if there’s vomiting or diarrhea involved, suggests Philip M. Tierno Jr., PhD, professor of microbiology and pathology at NYU School of Medicine. If you have to share, wipe the toilet seat, flusher, and faucet with disinfectant wipes after each use, he advises. Melissa Slawsky, a mom in Orlando, Florida, keeps her sick kid from passing germs around the family by replacing hand towels with a roll of disposable paper towels.
Germs can also spread when you pick up those used tissues that inevitably pile up all over the house. One mom’s clever solution: “My kids carry their own tissue box around, as well as a plastic baggie so they can dispose of their used tissues,” says Fairuz Abdullah, a mother of twins in San Francisco.
The importance of handwashing can’t be overstated. “It’s not a guarantee you won’t get sick, but it’s the best and simplest way to help prevent germs from getting on—and into—you,” says Claire McCarthy, MD, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital. Make sure everyone washes their hands after using the bathroom, before eating and drinking, and before touching their face, says Tierno. (Try the Honest Company’s Foaming Hand Soap in kid-fave Coastal Surf scent; company founder Jessica Alba says she keeps it in her daughters’ bathroom to encourage frequent hand washing.)
Use sanitizing wipes on anything that’s handled by multiple people, including the phone, TV remote, and doorknob. “Common colds can spread through germs on these surfaces,” explains Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Take your child to the pediatrician while his sibs are in school, even if the timing means your regular doc isn’t available. That way the kids won’t have to ride in the car together, and you won’t expose your healthy children to other germs at the doctor’s office.
To comfort your child, “do an air-kiss or high five without touching,” suggests McCarthy. “When you’re snuggling on the couch, put a giant stuffed animal or two between you.” If you can’t resist a kiss, skip the cheek and go for the top of the head—it’s less likely to spread germs.