Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

Select An Article
Font Size

Keeping Colds and Other Contagious Infections Contained


Stock Up Before Cold and Flu Season Strike

Make sure you are prepared ahead of time for colds, coughs, flu, and other seasonal illnesses. Here's what you need to buy:

  • A thermometer for each family member
  • Extra toothbrushes and personal tubes of toothpaste
  • Plenty of tissues, toilet paper, and paper towels
  • Throat lozenges and anything else that makes the sick person comfortable


Be Your Own Bodyguard Against Cold and Flu

As soon as someone in your house shows symptoms of a cold, flu, or any contagious illness, keep your distance from their coughs, sneezes, and objects they touch. Here's what you must know:

  • Use paper towels instead of community towels in the bathroom and kitchen.
  • If your spouse is ill, sleep on the couch or in the guest room, and use a different bathroom.
  • If a sick child crawls in bed with you, sleep behind the child to avoid his or her coughs and sneezes.
  • Avoid contact with counters, utensils, phones, and other objects the sick person has touched.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's 12 Natural Tips to Prevent a Cold.

Teach Family Members to Wash Hands Frequently

According to the CDC, frequent and thorough hand washing is the single most effective way to prevent catching colds, flu, or any contagious disease. Be sure to wash your hands frequently, including the following times:

  • Before and after you prepare food
  • Before you eat
  • After you use the bathroom
  • Before and after changing a baby's diaper
  • After handling animals or animal waste
  • After coughing or sneezing
  • When your hands are dirty
  • More frequently if someone in your home is sick

To wash hands properly, follow these steps:

  1. Wet your hands and apply liquid or clean bar soap. Place bar soap on a soap dish that allows it to drain.
  2. Rub your hands together vigorously, scrubbing all surfaces for 15 to 20 seconds. That's about how long it takes to hum the song "Happy Birthday to You" twice.
  3. Rinse well and dry your hands. In a public restroom, use the air dryer or paper towels.
  4. In the absence of soap and water, use alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers.


Understand the Antibacterial Soap Debate

Antibacterial soaps kill germs on contact while ordinary soap releases germs from the skin so the bacteria are washed down the drain or wiped off on towels. The jury is out on whether antibacterial soaps are more effective against germs than soap and water. Manufacturers claim they are, but a recent CDC study of 224 households over a one-year period showed that antibacterial soap users were no healthier than regular soap users.

The jury is also out on whether overuse of antibacterial soaps promotes development of super-germs resistant to antibiotics. 

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
blowing nose
Allergy And Sinus Symptom Evaluator
Health Check
Boy holding ear
woman receiving vaccine shot
Bacterial or Viral Infection
How To Calm Your Cough
Sore Throat

WebMD Special Sections