How Germs Spread
The main way that illnesses like colds and flu are spread
is from person to person 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 also can
be spread when a person touches respiratory droplets from
another person on a surface like a desk and then touches his
or her own eyes, mouth or nose before washing their hands.
We know that some viruses and bacteria can live 2 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.
The "Happy Birthday" song helps keep
your hands clean?
Not exactly. Yet we recommend that when you wash your hands
-- with soap and warm water -- that you wash for 15 to 20
seconds. That's about the same time it takes to sing the “Happy
Birthday” song twice!
Alcohol-Based Hand Wipes and Gel Sanitizers Work
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.*
* Source: FDA/CFSAN Food Safety
A to Z Reference Guide, September 2001: Handwashing.
Germs and Children
Source: Am J Infect Control 2000;28:340-6.
Remind children to practice healthy habits too, because germs spread, especially at school.
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.
School administrators, teachers and staff: See Preventing the Spread of Influenza (the Flu) in Schools for CDC interim guidance.
More Facts, Figures, and How-Tos
CDC and its partner agencies and organizations offer a great
deal of information about handwashing and other things you
can do to stop the germs that cause flu, the common cold,
and other illnesses. See Other Resources
and Posters on this Stop the Spread
of Germs site for a select listing of Web sites, materials,
and contact information.
Stop the Spread of Germs in Schools
1/5 of the U.S. population attends or works in schools.
(U.S. Dept of Ed, 1999).
viruses and bacteria can live from 20 minutes up
to 2 hours or more on surfaces like cafeteria tables,
doorknobs, and desks. (Ansari, 1988; Scott and Bloomfield,
22 million school days are lost annually due to
the common cold alone. (CDC, 1996)
the spread of germs in schools is essential to the
health of our youth, our schools, and our nation.
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.