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Quiz: The Truth About the Common Cold

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How long can cold germs live on your bathroom sink?

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How long can cold germs live on your bathroom sink?

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Germs can survive up to three hours on objects like your bathroom sink, the kitchen counter, and that doorknob your preschooler just touched after wiping his nose without a tissue. If someone in your house has a cold, you may be able to stop spreading it by wiping surfaces with a virus-killing disinfectant.

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By the time you have cold symptoms, you're not contagious anymore.

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By the time you have cold symptoms, you're not contagious anymore.

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Colds are actually most contagious before symptoms appear and during the first 2-4 days after symptoms start to appear. You don't have to hide in a bubble, but try to avoid close contact with others when you have a cold and be sure to wash your hands frequently. Cover your mouth with a tissue or handkerchief when you sneeze or cough -- or use the crook of your elbow. (You don't usually touch people or objects with your elbow, so you're less likely to spread germs than if you cover your mouth with your bare hand.)

What causes colds?

What causes colds?

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There are more than 200 viruses that cause colds, with rhinovirus being the most common. Colds are not caused by bacteria, which means that antibiotics -- designed to treat bacterial infections -- are useless against them. Treating a cold with antibiotics not only won't work, it can be hazardous.

If you go outside with wet hair when it's cold, you'll probably catch a cold.

If you go outside with wet hair when it's cold, you'll probably catch a cold.

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"Don’t go out with that wet head, you'll catch your death of cold!" Despite Mom's warnings, going outside with wet hair or without a hat doesn't put you at greater risk of catching a cold. You might be cold and uncomfortable, but colds are spread by germs, not the temperature.

People catch more colds in winter because:

People catch more colds in winter because:

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Colds are spread by close contact, and in the winter we spend a lot more time inside, keeping warm. That means we're more exposed to other people -- and their germs. Winter air is also much drier than the air in spring and summer, and cold viruses tend to thrive in low humidity. (Running a humidifier in your bedroom during the coldest winter months can help with cold symptoms.)

Echinacea or vitamin C helps prevent catching a cold or shortens a cold if you already have one.

Echinacea or vitamin C helps prevent catching a cold or shortens a cold if you already have one.

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Some people swear by vitamin C or echinacea. But there is very little proof that vitamin C has any effect on the average person with a common cold. Studies have shown that very high doses of vitamin C may reduce your chance of getting a cold, but only under certain circumstances. High doses of vitamin C can also hurt the kidneys and cause nausea and diarrhea.

Echinacea is one of the best-selling herbal products in the U.S., but many researchers believe there is no proof that it has a benefit for people with colds.

When your preschooler has a cold, the best treatment is:

When your preschooler has a cold, the best treatment is:

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The best remedy for a preschooler's cold is an old-fashioned one: stay in bed and get plenty to drink to stay hydrated. Over-the-counter cold and cough medications should not be given to children under age 4. There’s no evidence that these medicines help children. Some believe the possible benefits are not worth the risk.

Grandma was right: Chicken soup can help relieve a cold.

Grandma was right: Chicken soup can help relieve a cold.

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It's not just Grandma's tale: Chicken soup helps break up nasal congestion and ease stuffiness. Some studies suggest that it inhibits the inflammatory response that leads to a sore throat. And when you're feeling run-down, the combination of lean protein and vegetables can help boost your strength to fight off illness.

The best way to prevent a cold is:

The best way to prevent a cold is:

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The best way to keep from catching or spreading a cold is by washing your hands thoroughly and regularly.  Wash hands frequently, and here's how: Wet your hands first, then apply soap, and scrub for at least 20 seconds. Singing "Happy Birthday" all the way through two times takes about 20 seconds. Hand sanitizers can also be a good supplement to handwashing.

Even if your child seems to get a cold every month, it's probably not a sign of a more serious problem.

Even if your child seems to get a cold every month, it's probably not a sign of a more serious problem.

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Children get between 6 and 10 colds every year -- including spring and summer -- so it's not unusual for your child to be sniffling and sneezing every other month, or even more often. If they are in day care, preschool, or other settings where they spend a lot of time with other kids, they'll be exposed to lots of germs, and regular colds aren't necessarily something to worry about.

It's probably the flu -- not just a cold -- if you have:

It's probably the flu -- not just a cold -- if you have:

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Some people do run a slight fever along with a cold, but if you have a high fever it's more likely the flu or a complication. Fatigue, while more common with the flu, also is seen with colds.

Stressed out? You're more likely to catch a cold.

Stressed out? You're more likely to catch a cold.

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It's not just your yoga teacher trying to persuade you to take another class: Studies have found that people are more susceptible to catching colds when they're under stress. Vulnerability appears to be linked to chronic stress that lasts more than one month, like trouble at work or problems in your family relationships.

If you have a runny nose, green-tinged mucus means:

If you have a runny nose, green-tinged mucus means:

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Mucus from a runny nose often changes color during the course of a cold, sometimes several times. It's usually clear at first, and then changes to a white or yellowish color as your immune cells fight back. Green-tinged mucus means the bacteria that normally live in your nose are growing back. All of this is normal and shouldn't cause you to panic.

The flu vaccine also works for colds.

The flu vaccine also works for colds.

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The flu vaccine protects only against the flu, and not other viruses, including cold viruses. Scientists are trying to create a vaccine for the common cold, but it's a tough job because there are hundreds of viruses that can cause a cold. It probably will be many years before any vaccine is effective against colds.

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