How Does the Common Cold Spread?


How do people catch a cold?

A person can get sick with a cold if one of the viruses that cause colds attaches to the lining of the nose or throat. Cold viruses pass from person to person and can be transmitted through contamination of surfaces, such as doorknobs, lift buttons, handrails, utensils, etc. The virus can be active for several hours, sometimes up to 8, on surfaces outside the body. Another method of transmission is through the air from sneezes and coughs from an infected person.

People with colds are most contagious and likely to spread the virus to others before they themselves show symptoms, and then 2-4 days after symptoms first appear. In a family it is best to try to limit exposure during the initial period when the first family member gets sick.

Is there a link between cold weather and catching a cold?

Cold weather by itself does not cause a cold, though it may help in making a person sick by tiring them and weakening their immune resistance. In addition, the dry air that accompanies cold weather may dry the nasal passages and allow viruses to invade. It is also possible to catch a cold during very hot weather.

However, it has been observed that more people catch colds and catch them more often when the weather gets colder. That is because cold viruses spread from person to person, so when the concentration of people in a closed space increases, such as during cold weather when people are indoors more often, it increases the rate of transmission. Colds may also occur more frequently during other times of the year when people stay indoors and close to others, such as during the summer, when people stay in air-conditioned spaces, and monsoons.

What are some precautions to prevent catching or spreading the cold?

In order for a person to catch a cold, the virus has to infect the nose or throat. Limiting healthy people’s exposure to sick individuals would help, but may not be possible. Avoiding touching the nose, mouth and eyes is also a good idea but impracticable. Therefore experts recommend frequent hand-washing with soap or use of hand sanitizers by both people who have the infection and those who do not. People who already have the cold should sneeze or cough into the bend of their elbow, keeping nose and mouth completely covered, so that they do not pass it on to others nearby.

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