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The Bigger the Household, the More Germs, Study Finds

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A new study presents a somewhat unsurprising though important finding: the more children in a household, the more likely members of that household will get sick.

The study, which was carried out by a research team based at the University of Utah School of Medicine, involved an examination of 26 households and 108 family members. The participants, all of whom are residents of Utah, were tracked from 2009 to 2010.

Researchers asked all participants, including parents and children, to use mouth swabs once a week and send those swabs in for testing. Participants also had to report symptoms of any medical conditions, such as a common cold.

The lab then checked for typical respiratory viruses, including rhinovirus and influenza. They discovered that the people who had no kids were sick for about 3-weeks to one month each year, or about 7-percent of the year. However, add a single child to the mix and that infection period went up to 18-weeks, while families with 6 children experienced sickness for 45-weeks–about 87-percent of the year!

Dr. Carrie Byiington, a pediatrician and one of the study’s lead researchers, said it should help parents understand the prevalence of common viruses in growing households. “I frequently get asked by parents, ‘Is this normal or is there something wrong with this child? They always have a runny nose’,” Byiington said.

“I can now just point to the study and say, ‘Your child is normal’. A child under 5 has a virus in the nose for half the year.”

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