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What is the 'common cold'?

Each year more than 200 viruses cause what we refer to as the 'common cold'. These 200 join together to produce up to 1500 different virus combinations our bodies may need to fight, according to the CDC and the American Lung Association.

How are germs spread - and how long are they active?

Germs are surprisingly active, resiliant things. Consider these facts:

  • A person sneezing propels more than 100,000 germs up to 3 feet at a velocity of 200 miles per hour.
  • A person infected with a virus is most likely to spread the cold from 2 – 4 days after symptoms (runny nose, coughing, sneezing) first appear.
  • With the flu, a person can be contagious from 1 day before to 7 days after symptoms first appear.
  • Viruses can live on hard surfaces like doorknobs, light switches and cell phones for up to 18 hours.
  • The flu virus has been known to live up to 3 days!

So, how do I keep myself & my family well?

80% of all germs which cause sickness are spread via the hands. Soap and water is actually the most effective weapon you can use! Antibacterial soap has not been shown to be any more effective than plain soap. Some suggest that it may actually increase bacterial resistance – making fighting some bacteria more difficult. If soap and water is unavailable, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

Handwashing 101

The most important elements of hand-washing are scrubbing and the duration. Here are some 'pointers':

  • Wash your hands with warm water.
  • Soap and scrub between your fingers, under your nails and on the back of your hands.
  • Wash at least 20 seconds – roughly the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.

Cinnamon Germ Challenge

Looking for a great way to show your kids (and even yourself) how good hand-washing gets rid of germs? Using a teaspoon of cooking oil and a teaspoon of cinnamon, try this fun, easy exercise:

  1. Take a teaspoon of cooking oil and add a teaspoon of cinnamon for color.
  2. Coat your hands - back, front and in between your fingers.
  3. Put your hands under running water.
  4. Try to scrub off the cinnamon and oil. Not so easy, is it?
  5. Now add soap to your running water.
  6. Watch the cinnamon "germs" disappear.
  7. Practice singing the Happy Birthday song.

Karen K. Meyer, MD

Methodist Physicians Clinic HealthWest

Dr. Meyer answers your questions about child development and parenting. Dr. Meyer decided to become a doctor when she was in school and learned about the body's systems and the miracle of how they all work together. She likes talking to children and helping them feel better. Dr. Meyer believes that children are not little adults and they need to be treated in a way that will help them understand why they aren't feeling well and what they can do to get better. She also works to build tru ...

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