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How can I help protect my family from catching colds?

        Health | Cold & Flu

A few simple tips can help you keep your family healthy during cold and flu season. Learn more with staying healthy pictures.
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What do Smart cars and sneezes have in common? The speedometer of a Smart ForTwo goes up to 100 miles per hour (160 kilometers per hour), and that's also about as fast as a sneeze travels. Think about that next time you don't reach for a tissue when you feel a sneeze coming on.

Colds are spread by the droplets that escape when we sneeze and cough, so if someone nearby -- up to about 3 feet away -- sneezes and you inhale those germ-laden droplets, get ready to get sick. Even if you aren't in range of the sneeze, those germs may be living on surfaces nearby, such as banisters and tables. Touch a contaminated surface and then touch your face, and you may have just invited a cold virus into your body.

One of the very best ways to protect yourself and your family from catching a cold isn't to run away to a secluded tropical island -- although that doesn't sound like such a bad idea when you're suffering from a cold in the middle of January. It's regular hand washing.

You should wash your hands often, especially in these circumstances:

  • Preparing or cooking food
  • Eating meals or snacks
  • Touching trash or a trashcan
  • Using the restroom
  • Coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose
  • Coming into contact with someone who's sick
  • Touching telephones, doorknobs, handles, remote controls or other frequently handled items

Some viruses can survive on surfaces for two hours or longer -- rhinoviruses, one of the most common causes of colds, for example, can live for up to three hours on your skin and other objects [source: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases]. Hand washing and disinfecting common surfaces of your home can go a long way toward staying healthy.