Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

Select An Article
Font Size

Prevent Colds With Hand Washing

Preventing colds with hand washing is one way you can stay well this season -- and you might prevent other illnesses, too, such as the flu.

Colds are spread mainly through respiratory droplets of coughs and sneezes when someone has a cold. But many times, we unknowingly touch these minuscule droplets of cold germs on surfaces and then infect ourselves with the same cold virus. Some viruses and bacteria can live several hours on hard surfaces like cafeteria tables, telephone receivers, computer keyboards, and doorknobs. Cold prevention with hand washing can keep you from passing on cold viruses -- and picking up viruses on surfaces in your environment.

Swine Flu Outbreak: Get the Facts

Swine Flu Slideshow

Learn more about the H1N1 swine flu and see what you can do to stay healthy.

View the slideshow.

Hand Washing Prevents the Spread of Cold Germs

Amazingly, about 80% of infectious diseases are transmitted by touch. The CDC estimates that up to 49,000 people die from the flu or flu-like illness each year, and another 5,000 people die from food borne illness each year. And the best protection from this type of illness is frequent hand washing. The simple friction that occurs when you rub skin against skin, along with warm water and soap, followed by thorough rinsing, and drying, gets rid of the potentially harmful bacteria.

According to the CDC, the simple act of hand washing is the single most important means of preventing the spread of viral and bacterial infections. Yet some findings reveal that many Americans using public restrooms don't wash their hands before leaving. People also forget to wash their hands before preparing meals. They also grab snacks without thinking of hand washing.

How Cold and Other Germs Spread

Each day hands are exposed to many contaminated surfaces. Then, when you unknowingly touch your face, the germs enter your body through the eyes, nose, and mouth. You can also transmit those germs to others by shaking hands (direct transmission) or handling items that others then touch (indirect transmission).

For germs to spread from one person to another, three things must happen:

  1. Germs must be present. A person carries the germs; the germs are in the air or on a surface; or in body fluids such as mucus from the person's nose, a discharge from the eye, or saliva from the mouth.
  2. A person who is not immune to the germs comes in contact with them. This happens when you touch a computer keyboard or mouse after someone with a cold or other illness has used it. It can happen when you use a telephone after someone who is sick touched it, when you kiss an ill person, or when you're in the path of someone's sneeze or cough (and that's hard to prevent!).
  3. This point of contact happens in a way that leads to infection. In other words, as you touch your face, mouth, nose, or rub your eyes with unwashed hands, the germs enter your body.

WebMD Medical Reference

Next Article:

Today on WebMD

hot toddy
15 tips to help you feel better.
man sneezing into elbow
Do echinacea and vitamin C really help a cold?
 
teen girl coughing
Get a good night’s rest with these remedies.
elder berry
Eat these to fight colds, flu, and more.
 
Natural Cold Flu Remedies Slideshow
Slideshow
blowing nose
VIDEO
 
Allergy And Sinus Symptom Evaluator
Health Check
Boy holding ear
Article
 
woman receiving vaccine shot
Article
Bacterial or Viral Infection
Video
 
How To Calm Your Cough
Quiz
Sore Throat
Slideshow
 

WebMD Special Sections