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Five ways to stop a cold spreading

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Having a cold is miserable and when you are part of family, if one of you gets a cold, often all of you will catch it. A cold isn't life-threatening but as it spreads through the family your lives could be disrupted for weeks. Missed school, days off work, sleepless nights and feeling down in the dumps.

A person first becomes contagious two to three days before their symptoms begin, and they remain contagious until all their symptoms have gone. So most people will be contagious for around two weeks.

Tempting though it is to keep your child in an isolation chamber at the first sign of a sniffle, there are ways and means to stop those pesky cold germs taking a hold and bringing the entire household down.

Don't panic! Here are five tips that can help stop a cold from spreading.

1: Wash your hands

You've heard it many times before, but washing your hands is the single most important way to stop the spread of colds. The majority of infectious diseases can be spread by touch: the cold germs get on to the hands and from there into the eyes, nose and mouth.

Professor Sally Bloomfield, chair of the International Forum on Home Hygiene, says: "You can significantly reduce the risk of a cold spreading and the golden rule is washing your hands."

"Try not to rub your eyes and nose as you can get infected that way too."

You may not be able to keep your house free from cold germs but if you keep everybody's hands clean, they'll be much less likely to get a cold.

Do it thoroughly by using soap and hot water. When you're not near a sink, an alcohol-based hand sanitiser is a good substitute.

2: Cover your nose and mouth

Coughs and sneezes spread diseases so when you do either, don't cover your mouth or nose with your hands, but use the crook of your elbow or a tissue. That way, the cold germs won't get onto your hands and spread.

Dr Val Curtis, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says: "Be sensible; don't sneeze all over people."

Professor Bloomfield says: "Good respiratory hygiene is key. Sneeze into your sleeve or a hanky."

3: Disinfect

Cold germs can live for hours so think about disinfecting areas like worktops, doorknobs, toilet handles and remote controls.

Professor Bloomfield says: "Cold germs are spread really easily over surfaces. You really need to use a bleach to kill the virus rather than an anti-bacterial spray."

She says it's particularly important to stop vulnerable groups such as the elderly or people with lung problems like asthma from catching a cold.

Don't obsess, though, as there's no way you can make a normal household completely sterile.

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