Q. I'm a baby-sitting grandparent I think I'm getting more colds because of it. Am I right or is this my imagination?

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases reports that schoolchildren get as many as 12 colds a year. Put those kids near their grandparents and it doesn't take a scientist to know that those colds are going to spread.

My personal physician also a grandfather says that one of the problems is that these walking petri dishes come home from school with new germs for which older people haven't developed antibodies.

Any grandparent will tell you that being around their little treasures has made them sick. My seven grandchildren are generous with all the viruses they get from their school chums.

What are you supposed to do when one of the darlings comes up to you with a runny nose and asks for a hug? Well, if you understand the hazards, perhaps you can formulate a plan that works for you around the miraculous children of your children.

Obviously the best course of action is to stay away from grandchildren when they have colds, but any grandparent knows that's next to impossible.

There are two ways you can catch a cold:

1. Inhaling drops of mucus full of cold germs from the air.

2. Touching a surface that has cold germs and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

So, avoid close facial contact with your ailing grandchildren. Use some restraint. If the child needs comfort, limit yourself to hugs that don't put you in the position of inhaling their germs.

Washing your hands thoroughly and often is important. Washing with soap and water doesn't kill the cold virus, but removes it. The scrubbing is more important than the soap.

Also, if you can, try to avoid touching your face after you have been around a child with a cold.

Rhinoviruses can live up to three hours on your skin, and on objects such as telephones and stair railings. Cleaning environmental surfaces with a virus-killing disinfectant might help prevent spread of infection.

Where are these viruses found most often? No, not in the bathroom. The worst room in the house for germs is the kitchen. And the greatest concentration is found in sponges and dishcloths.

Laundering a dishcloth doesn't eliminate germs. And putting a sponge through the dishwasher makes it look clean but doesn't remove the infection. Instead, moisten the sponge or dishcloth and microwave it for two minutes. Then you'll have safe, germ-free tools to use.

These tips will help, but the reality is that you're going to catch some colds. They're the price of being a caregiver. It's the price you paid as a parent. Now you're having a second chance for all that love ... and all those germs.

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