Healthy Living

At what point is my cold contagious?

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

Written by Medibank

When the winter months hit, it can 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.

It's called the common cold for a reason: colds are the most common cause of illness in both adults and children. Adults may get between 2 to 4 colds each year. You probably 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 are colds spread 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.

Cold spread very easily. If you’re infected, every time you talk, cough or sneeze, you could 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: Common myths about the flu

How long is a cold contagious?

Generally, a cold is contagious from about one day before your symptoms begin and can remain contagious for the first five days of illness. Interestingly, you may be infected with a cold virus up to three days before experiencing any symptoms. This is known as the incubation period. 

What can I do to avoid catching a cold?

Here are our top 6 tips to help prevent a cold this winter:

  • Keep your distance: Avoid direct and indirect contact with sick friends, family members or 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 day.
  • Disinfect your environment: Clean surfaces such as your keyboard, phone 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, there are some simple things you can do to help avoid infecting your friends and loved ones.

  • Stay at home while you are sick: As tempting as it is to ‘soldier on’, the people in your life will thank you for keeping your germs to yourself. Getting plenty of rest if also important for your recovery.
  • Avoid close contact: Hugging, kissing, or shaking hands should be avoided when you are sick.
  • Cover 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 with soap and water. Also be sure to throw away tissues and wipe down the area they may have been sitting on, to avoid spreading the virus further.

MORE: Signs to look out for when a cold is getting more serious

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Written by Medibank

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Things you should know:

While we hope you find this information helpful, please note that it is general in nature. It is not health advice, and is not tailored to meet your individual health needs. You should always consult a trusted health professional before making decisions about your health care. While we have prepared the information carefully, we can’t guarantee that it is accurate, complete or up-to-date. And while we may mention goods or services provided by others, we aren’t specifically endorsing them and can’t accept responsibility for them. For these reasons we are unable to accept responsibility for any loss that may be sustained from acting on this information (subject to applicable consumer guarantees).  

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