It can sometimes seem like there is no way to avoid a cold in winter. So how can you avoid passing it on?

At what point is my cold contagious?

When the winter months hit, it can often seem like everyone you know is struck down with a cold. And if you use public transport or work in an office, it seems like there is no way to avoid catching one.

Colds are the most common cause of illness in adults and children. Adults may get between 2 to 4 colds each year. You know the signs — coughing, headaches, sneezing, a blocked or runny nose. While the symptoms are usually mild to moderate, you can feel pretty awful for several days.

So how do you spread a cold and at what point is your cold contagious? Read on to find out.

How does a cold spread?

Despite its name, you won’t catch one just by being cold. Rather, a cold can be caused by over 200 different viruses. It’s also called the ‘common cold’ for a reason; it spreads very easily. If you’re infected, every time you talk, cough or sneeze, you send small infectious droplets into the air, which may infect people nearby.

Those nasty germs can also spread indirectly through everyday contact with other people or common surfaces. When someone infected with a cold shakes hands, turns a door handle or uses the office fridge, they could be at risk of passing on the virus. And if you’re one of the unlucky ones that touches your nose, eyes, or mouth after being in contact with the virus, even indirectly, there is a chance you may get sick.

MORE: The difference between cold and flu

How long is a cold contagious?

Interestingly, you may be infected with the a cold virus up to three days before experiencing any symptoms. Generally, you’re contagious from around one day before symptoms show and for the first five days that you’re sick. For some people, you may even be contagious until all symptoms are gone. And some viruses can survive for several days on surfaces.

What can I do to avoid catching a cold?

Maintaining good hygiene is your best bet at avoiding a cold when it starts to affect your colleagues, friends or family members. Here are our top 6 tips to prevent a cold this winter:

  • Keep your distance: Avoid direct and indirect contact with sick co-workers.
  • Keep your hands clean: Viruses that cause colds can live on your hands, and regular hand-washing can help protect you from getting sick. Try to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with your hands.
  • Use hand sanitiser: This will help to keep your hands free of germs. Try to use it regularly throughout the work day.
  • Disinfect your environment: Clean surfaces such as your keyboard, telephone and door handles regularly.
  • Use your own items: Don’t share cups, plates or cutlery at the office.

I’ve got a cold. Now what?

If you’re sick with a cold, here are some simple things you can do to avoid infecting your friends and loved ones:

  • Stay at home while you are sick: As tempting as it is to ‘soldier on’, your colleagues will thank you for keeping your germs to yourself.
  • Avoid close contact: Hugging, kissing, or shaking hands should be avoided when you are sick.
  • Watch your sneezes: Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze, and move away from others as germs can easily spread.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly: After coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose, wash your hands thoroughly. Also be sure to throw away tissues and wipe down the area they may have been sitting on, to avoid spreading the virus further.

Got other burning questions? Get answers to essential life issues like how often you should shower, or poo, with our Burning Questions guide.