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Utah Study Shows Viruses Thrive in Big Families

University of Utah School of Medicine

As the number of children in a household goes up, so too does the risk of viral infection. That’s according to a new University of Utah study published in the journal, Clinical Infectious Diseases. The research was made possible by Utah’s large families and a local diagnostic tool.

The study tested every member of 26 Utah families over the course of a year. New technology from local company BioFire Diagnostics allowed University of Utah researchers to test for multiple viruses weekly using nasal swabs. The results surprised Professor of Pediatrics Carrie Byington. They found that children under 5 tested positive for a virus 50% of the time. 

“We expected a very high rate, but I think all of us were surprised that they were positive for a virus one out of every two weeks, that’s an impressive number,” Byington says.

Those germs tend to spread of course, and the risks of infection go up with every additional child. People living in households with one child were infected with viruses 18 weeks out of the year. For those with six children, it went up to 45 weeks. On average, though, only half of those who tested positive also had the typical symptoms of coughing, fever, and stuffy nose. Byington says the study helps families and medical professionals start to understand what is normal.

“So a family can come in and present their child’s symptoms and we can really say that having seven respiratory viruses in your first year of life is very normal and we don’t have to be exceptionally concerned,” she says. In fact, Byington says there may be benefits to being exposed to low-level viruses, but more study is needed. 

Andrea Smardon is new at KUER, but she has worked in public broadcasting for more than a decade. Most recently, she worked as a reporter and news announcer for WGBH radio. While in Boston, she produced stories for Morning Edition, Marketplace Money, and The World. Her print work was published in The Boston Globe and Prior to that, she worked at Seattleââ
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