5 Ways to Practice Common-Cold Etiquette

Catching a cold is a fact of life—but our busy lives usually won't allow us to spend the week a bed nursing the sniffles. Instead of snuggling under the covers when you're under the weather, you'll most likely find yourself working, carpooling, and doing your usual household chores. Here's how not to spread your cold when out in public, or with your family.

1. Cover up. Your mouth and nose, that is. One of the easiest ways to ensure that your germs spread rapidly is to sneeze and cough directly into the air. Keep tissues or a hankerchief handy for when the urge strikes. If you're not quick enough, a good alternative is to sneeze or cough into the crook of your arm. A few germs on your shirt beats those same germs launched widely into circulation.

2. Wash your hands. You'll launder that shirt you sneezed onto, of course, but it's also crucial that you wash your hands. And especially after you sneeze or cough. The proper way to wash: After lathering your hands, rub them together and thoroughly scrub the backs of your hands, between each finger, and under your nails. Do this for at least 20 seconds, rinse well, and air dry or use a clean towel.

You may be avoiding handshakes while you have a cold, but you're still touching plenty of things that are then touched by other people. Protect your coworkers, fellow students, and family by keeping your hands scrupulously clean.

3. Wipe down surfaces. Keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer or package of wipes with you and wipe off any surfaces you touch that other people also come into contact with-computer keyboards, phones, desks, and refrigerator door handles among them.

4. Carry your own pen. You may need to sign your name multiple times a day-when your packages are delivered, when your credit card is run through a machine, when you're depositing or withdrawing money at the bank, and when your taking notes at a meeting. Instead of using the communal pens offered by stores and delivery men, which not only carry others' germs but will retain yours for future signers, keep one or two pens with you at all times and make sure you're the only user.

5. Soothe your throat. Coughing and sneezing are not only uncomfortable for you, they noise may be distracting to others. Arm yourself with cough drops before that important meeting so you don't spend it hacking loudly. Or, go to the bathroom to blow your nose instead of honking at your desk.

David B. Levine, MD, FAAP, reviewed this article.


"Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/

"Respiratory Hygiene/Cough Etiquette in Healthcare Settings." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/infectioncontrol/resphygiene.htm<

Emily Post Institute. "How Rude!" http://www.emilypost.com/on-the-job/90-landing-pages/377-how-rude.