Strategies for Cold and Flu Season: Stopping the Spread of Germs

The main way that illnesses like colds and flu are spread is from person to per-son in respiratory droplets of coughs and sneezes. This is called "droplet spread." This can happen when droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person move through the air and are deposited on the mouth or nose of people nearby.

Sometimes germs are spread when a person touches respiratory droplets from another person on a surface like a desk and then touches the eyes, mouth, or nose before washing his or her hands. We know that some viruses and bacteria can live two hours or longer on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs, and desks.

How to stop the spread of germs

In a nutshell, take care to:

  • Cover your mouth and nose
  • Clean your hands often
  • Remind your children to practice healthy habits, too

Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing

Cough or sneeze into a tissue and then throw it away. Cover your cough or sneeze if you do not have a tissue. Then, clean your hands, and do so every time you cough or sneeze.

Clean your hands often

When available, wash your hands—with soap and warm water—then rub your hands vigorously together and scrub all surfaces (see facts on handwashing frequency). Wash for 15-20 seconds. It is the soap combined with the scrubbing action that helps dislodge and remove germs.

Alcohol-based hand wipes and gel sanitizers work, too

When soap and water are not available, alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers may be used. You can find them in most supermarkets and drugstores. If using gel, rub your hands until the gel is dry. The gel doesn’t need water to work; the alcohol in it kills the germs on your hands.

Antimicrobial effects of essential oils

Essential oils also have been shown to have strong antimicrobial properties and can be used to stem the spread of germs in homes and classrooms (see Table). Essential oils can be added to rinse waters and liquid soaps, or to cleaning sprays used to wipe down surfaces like countertops, tables, doorknobs, and desks. A few drops of an essential oil also can be applied to a cotton ball and placed near the spout of a steam humidifier to distribute the oil in the humidifier’s steam mist.

Stopping the spread of germs in schools

The flu has caused high rates of absenteeism among students and staff in our country’s 119,000 schools. Influenza is not the only respiratory infection of concern in schools—nearly 22 million schools days are lost each year to the common cold alone. However, when children practice healthy habits, they miss fewer days of school (see Figure). Students need to get plenty of sleep and physical activity, drink water, and eat good food to help them stay healthy in the winter and all year.

Figure: Cleaning hands
keeps students in school

Source: Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention. Available on the CDC website: click here. Accessed Dec. 7, 2004.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: Accessed Dec. 7, 2004.

Alternative Medicine Alert, P.O. Box 740059, Atlanta, GA 30374. Copyright © 2005 by Thomson American Health Consultants. This is an educational publication designed to present scientific information and opinion to health professionals, to stimulate thought, and further investigation. It does not provide advice regarding medical diagnosis or treatment for any individual case. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of this publication. Mention of products or services does not constitute endorsement. Professional counsel should be sought for specific situations. The publication is not intended for use by the layman.