A surprise sneeze, cough, or snot from your nose needs to go somewhere: your hands. If you’re infected with a cold virus, the chances are high that the virus will spend some time on your hands. You use your hands to touch all kinds of things that other people may also touch—like door knobs, light switches, remote controls, tablets, stair railing, car seat belts, food containers in the refrigerator or pantry, pencils and pens, car steering wheels, and so much more. Keeping your hands clean and virus-free can help ensure that you’re not leaving germs around that could make others sick.2,5
COLD & FLU
10 Tips to Prevent Spreading Your Cold
When cold symptoms strike, you want relief, fast. DayQuil and NyQuil Cold & Flu can help relieve tough cold symptoms like fever, cough, and sore throat. Despite symptom relief from DayQuil and NyQuil, though, you’re probably still contagious to those around you. Take steps to make sure you’re not passing your cold virus to anyone else.
Cold viruses can be highly contagious and tend to infect people by entering bodies through their mouths, noses, and eyes.1 People often get infected with cold viruses when these viruses are in the air around them.2 Another common way for infection to occur is that a virus gets on someone’s hands, and the person then transfers the virus to the face, giving the virus the opportunity to enter the body through the eyes, nose, or mouth.
Though cold viruses may be merely a nuisance to some, they can cause significant illness and death in others, especially the immunocompromised.3,4 It’s important that we all take simple measures to prevent the spread of colds. If you have a cold, there are several things you can do to help protect others from contracting the virus that is causing your symptoms.
Here are 10 simple ways you can decrease the chances of passing on your cold to other people.
- Wash your hands regularly.
Wash your hands for 15 to 20 seconds to adequately remove the cold virus or other illness-causing agents from your hands.6
- Disinfect surfaces frequently.
No matter how often you wash your hands, you are likely getting virus on surfaces around you when you’re sick. By wiping down these with disinfectant, you can reduce the likelihood that someone else who touches those surfaces will catch your contagious cold virus.7,8
- Stay home as much as possible.
Cold viruses thrive by rapidly traveling from person-to-person. Their spread is significantly minimized when infected people stay away from others, preventing the virus from finding its way into a new host.
By staying home, you can ensure that you do not directly infect anyone outside your home.
- Don’t sneeze or cough into the air.
Covering sneezes and coughs is a key strategy for minimizing the spread of colds. Ideally you use a tissue like Puffs to cover your sneeze or to cover your cough. If you don’t have time to grab a tissue, sneeze into your elbow or upper sleeve instead of your hand. The virus is less likely to travel from your arm to a place where it may infect others.10,11 This latter strategy can be an especially effective measure for kids, as they play a vital role in the spread of cold viruses and may struggle to get themselves tissues ahead of coughing or sneezing.11
- If you can’t use soap, use hand sanitizer.
Grab a bottle of hand sanitizer and keep it in your purse, car, desk, pocket, or wherever you anticipate not having access to soap and water. Hand sanitizers can help to reduce viral contamination on the hands.12 Because soap and water can be more effective than hand sanitizers, it’s best to use soap and water when you have that option. However, when soap and water are not available, using hand sanitizer may reduce your likelihood of spreading your cold.13
- Don’t shake people’s hands.
Handshakes are a polite greeting—but when you’ve got a cold, politely pass. Hand-to-hand transmission of cold viruses is common.14 Because it is difficult for someone who is sick to avoid getting the cold virus on their hands, refraining from shaking others’ hands while you are infected can go a long way in preventing the spread of the cold virus.
- If you need to sneeze or cough around others, maintain physical distance.
Regardless of how you cover your cough or sneeze, particles may escape your target tissue or your elbow and get into the air. The closer the droplets from your sneeze or cough are to others, the more likely it is that they may inhale them and become infected. Getting some physical distance between yourself and others before you sneeze or cough may help reduce the chance that others contract the virus. While social distancing in its most extreme and effective form involves staying entirely away from others, maintaining physical distance when you are near others can still effectively minimize the spread of cold viruses.9
- Throw your tissues away immediately.
When you sneeze or cough into a tissue, it is likely that the respiratory droplets that enter the tissue contain some of your contagious cold virus. Leaving tissues around can lead to more spread of your virus—especially when someone else ends up picking it up and putting it in the trash for you. Throw out your tissues as soon as you use them.15 It’s a win-win: You reduce your likelihood of spreading your cold, and no one else has to clean up your snotty tissues.
- Wear a mask.
Wearing a mask provides a physical barrier that may help to lower the amount of the virus that you may sneeze or cough into the air if you’re infected.2,16 Ongoing research is likely to help us understand the best ways to use masks and how best to wear a mask to ensure that we minimize problematic respiratory droplets in the air.17
- Support the health of others in your home.
If you live with other people, it can be difficult to avoid getting them sick when you are infected with a cold. All the other measures you take to prevent viral spread are harder in confined spaces. Encouraging the others in your house to maintain their immune function by, for instance, getting plenty of rest,18 can reduce the chance that they get infected and then have the opportunity to further spread the virus to others.
Given that the average adult suffers from two or three colds each year,20 there is plenty of opportunity to help prevent widespread infection by practicing some straightforward safety habits.
If you get a cold virus, your symptoms are likely to resolve within 7-10 days, though some experience symptoms as long as three weeks.21 While colds can be contagious even before symptoms begin, the cold contagious period is usually the first two to three days of a cold.22 Colds are highly contagious, so the best way to protect others when you are sick is to keep your distance from them and the spaces they use.19
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Chavis, S & Ganesh N. Respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette. Infect Control Dent Off. 2019:91-103.
Sultana F, Nizame FA, Southern DL, Unicomb L, Winch PJ, Luby SP. Pilot of an Elementary School Cough Etiquette Intervention: Acceptability, Feasibility, and Potential for Sustainability. Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2017;97(6):1876-1885. doi:10.4269/ajtmh.16-0914
Bloomfield S et al. The effectiveness of hand hygiene procedures in reducing the risks of infections in home and community settings including handwashing and alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Am J Infec Control. 2007;35(10):S27-S64.
Gold, NA & Avva U. Alcohol sanitizer. nih.gov. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513254/. Published 2020. Accessed June 10, 2020.
Gwaltney JMJ, Moskalski PB, Hendley JO. Hand-to-hand transmission of rhinovirus colds. Ann Intern Med. 1978;88(4):463-467. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-88-4-463
Common colds: Overview. nih.gov. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279543/. Published 2006. Accessed June 9, 2020.
Jacobs JL, Ohde S, Takahashi O, Tokuda Y, Omata F, Fukui T. Use of surgical face masks to reduce the incidence of the common cold among health care workers in Japan: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Infect Control. 2009;37(5):417-419. doi:10.1016/j.ajic.2008.11.002
Cheng KK, Lam TH, Leung CC. Wearing face masks in the community during the COVID-19 pandemic: altruism and solidarity. Lancet (London, England). April 2020. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30918-1
Dimitrov S, Lange T, Gouttefangeas C, et al. Gα(s)-coupled receptor signaling and sleep regulate integrin activation of human antigen-specific T cells. J Exp Med. 2019;216(3):517-526. doi:10.1084/jem.20181169
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- Turner RB. The common cold. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009: Chap 53
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