How does one prevent Cold and Flu?

Updated at: Jan 16, 2013
How does one prevent Cold and Flu?
Communicable DiseasesWritten by: NIHPublished at: Jan 06, 2013

There are several ways you can keep yourself from getting a cold or passing one on to others.

  • Because cold germs on your hands can easily enter through your eyes and nose, keep your hands away from those areas of your body
  • If possible, avoid being close to people who have colds
  • If you have a cold, avoid being close to people
  • If you sneeze or cough, cover your nose or mouth, and sneeze or cough into your elbow rather than your hand.


Handwashing with soap and water is the simplest and one of the most effective ways to keep from getting colds or giving them to others. During cold season, you should wash your hands often and teach your children to do the same. When water isn’t available, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) recommends using alcohol-based products made for disinfecting your hands.


Rhinoviruses can live up to 3 hours on your skin. They also can survive up to 3 hours on objects such as telephones and stair railings. Cleaning environmental surfaces with a virus-killing disinfectant might help prevent spread of infection.


Because so many different viruses can cause the common cold, the outlook for developing a vaccine that will prevent transmission of all of them is dim. Scientists, however, continue to search for a solution to this problem.

Unproven prevention methods


Echinacea is a dietary herbal supplement that some people use to treat their colds. Researchers, however, have found that while the herb may help treat your colds if taken in the early stages, it will not help prevent them.

One research study funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a part of the National Institutes of Health, found that echinacea is not effective at all in treating children aged 2 to 11.

Vitamin C

Many people are convinced that taking large quantities of vitamin C will prevent colds or relieve symptoms. To test this theory, several large-scale, controlled studies involving children and adults have been conducted. To date, no conclusive data has shown that large doses of vitamin C prevent colds. The vitamin may reduce the severity or duration of symptoms, but there is no clear evidence of this effect.


Taking vitamin C over long periods of time in large amounts may be harmful. Too much vitamin C can cause severe diarrhea, a particular danger for elderly people and small children.


Honey has been considered to be a treatment for coughs and to soothe a sore throat. A recent study conducted at the Penn State College of Medicine compared the effectiveness of a little bit of buckwheat honey before bedtime versus either no treatment or dextromethorphan (DM), the cough suppressant found in many over-the-counter cold medicines. The results of this study suggest that honey may be useful to relieve coughing, but researchers need to do additional studies.

You should never give honey to children under the age of one because of the risk of infantile botulism, a serious disease.


Zinc lozenges and zinc lollipops are available over the counter as a treatment for the common cold; however, results from studies designed to test the efficacy of zinc are inconclusive. Although several stu...


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