What should everyone know about avoiding Colds?

Colds are short-lived, upper-respiratory illnesses, caused by viruses. The medical name for a cold is a "coryza" or, if you want to get even more snooty, "acute viral rhinitis". (The term "rhino" comes from the Greek word for nose; "itis" means inflammation.)

Colds are not serious illnesses, but they are inconvenient. The frequency with which you catch colds depends on how healthy you are and how often you are exposed to cold germs. Therefore, there is a two-part strategy to not catching colds: (1) maintain good health habits, and (2) avoid cold viruses.

The best strategy is to stay away from people that are coughing and sneezing. Cold germs can live for several hours on a person's skin, and they can live for days on environmental surfaces. Moreover, when a sick person sneezes, the germs that are released into the air are able to infect people for a long time to come. (So if you are sick with a cold, please stay home.)

Once a person is exposed to a cold germ, it takes 2-4 days to become sick. However, that person is contagious for a full day before the symptoms are even noticeable and for 5 days after that.

Cold season stretches from early fall through the end of winter. During that time, there are two important habits you can form. First, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water several times a day, including the moment you get home from work or school. Second, don't touch your hands to your nose or mouth, especially when people around you are sick. (If you don't want to follow my advice, buy a copy of this book for your mother and have her read this page to you.)

Speaking of mothers' advice, is it true that getting a chill will automatically make you sick? No. However, being cold for an extended time can lower the effectiveness of your immune system, and that will make you more susceptible to the germs in your vicinity.

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