Pro advice from a nurse: Tips to Keep Your Cold to Yourself (and prevent catching one!) by Gail Ingram BSN RN.
Nurses know every trick in the book to get better fast and if we feel sick then God knows the rest of you must be miserable. Unfortunately most coughs, colds and sore throats are viral and the only thing to do is wait it out—antibiotics won’t work. Antibiotics only work on bacterial infections so the best course of action is to manage viral symptoms and try not to pass it along to others.
A cold or respiratory virus can live outside the body for hours—on a desk, door handle, water faucet, computer lab keyboard, or the pen you just used. So here’s what you can do to protect yourself or others.
1. Cough into the upper arm or elbow of your own sleeve—not your hand. When you cough or sneeze on your hand you will surely pass your infection to someone else. Not cool.
Because viruses multiply in the body for a few days BEFORE symptoms develop, ALWAYS cough or sneeze into your sleeve even if you don’t feel sick. If your immune system is strong, you might not show symptoms but you can still spread the virus around. Also, not cool.
2. Use caution in crowded spaces, especially with poor air flow. Examples include subway cars or classrooms. Don’t stand or sit next to the coughing person; protect yourself and move out of the line of fire. If you are the one hacking and sneezing, please stay at home. Even though it may feel indulgent, exposing others to your infection is considerably more selfish.
3. Wash your hands with hot water and soap for at least 30 seconds. The temperature of the water, the friction and the compounds in the soap all work together to break apart the virus. A quick rinse in cold water with a dash of soap isn’t going to cut it. If that is how you wash your hands then don’t bother at all—you’re picking up more germs than you are killing.
4. Use hand sanitizer. Rub it in well and let it air dry because friction and evaporation are what kill viruses and bacteria. Get your cuticles, under your nails, the backs of your hands, and between your fingers. If you are sick, apply it after you blow your nose or handle a wet tissue. This helps protect others and should make you feel like a hero.
Unfortunately, bacterial infections can occur after catching a virus and sometimes (but rarely) you’ll be sick with both. The original viral infection will lower immunity and allow a bacterial infection to take hold. You’ll know this has happened if you suddenly get a fever and/or you start to cough up or blow out colorful mucus several days into your illness. Gross, I know–sorry. But if this happens, you’ll want to visit your care provider and get some antibiotics.