How to Prevent a Cold or the Flu

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Both the flu, or influenza, and common cold are very contagious viruses that exhibit similar symptoms and infect many people. The common cold infects your nose and throat, while influenza attacks a person’s respiratory system.[1] Neither illness has a cure and both can relieve on their own, though in some cases they can get quite serious.[2] But by following good hygiene practices and and nipping early symptoms in the bud, you can prevent a bad case of the cold or flu or avoid it altogether.


EditFollowing Good Hygiene Practices

  1. Wash your hands. One of the easiest and most effective measures to prevent colds and the flu is by washing your hands thoroughly and frequently.[3] This reduces the proliferation of bacteria and the cold or flu virus from common spaces or surfaces.[4]
    • Wet your hands before applying soap to your hands. Scrub your hands vigorously for 20 seconds, making sure to get under your nails, between your fingers, and the front and back of your hands.[5]
    • Rinse your hands under running water and dry them on a clean towel.[6]
    • Rub on a hand sanitizer if you can’t locate any soap and water.[7]
  2. Cover your nose and mouth. Put your hand or tissue over both your nose and mouth whenever you cough or sneeze.[8] Covering sneezes and coughs minimizes the risk of spreading your germs and the viruses.
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    • Consider coughing or sneezing into the crook of your elbow, which may help avoid contaminating your hands.
    • Throw away the used tissue immediately and then wash your hands.[9] You may also want to wash your hands after coughing or sneezing into them.
  3. Steer clear of crowds. The cold and flu are very contagious and generally spread where crowds of people congregate. Steering clear of crowds or packed spaces may minimize your risk of contracting either virus.[10]
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    • Wash your hands after touching surfaces in crowded places. Door handles (especially restroom door handles), for example, are surfaces on which cold and flu viruses can linger.
    • If you feel ill, stay home for at least a day to reduce your risk of spreading your cold or flu to others, or making your case worse by catching something else.[11]
    • Choose a daycare for your child that has clear policies on keeping sick children at home and exhibits good hygiene practices.[12]
  4. Sanitize shared spaces. The cold and flu viruses can spread easily on shared surfaces and spaces, especially in bathrooms and kitchens. Disinfecting these areas can help prevent the cold and flu viruses from spreading.[13]
    • Focus cleaning on common spaces such as the toilet, bathroom sink, kitchen counters, and the kitchen sink. Disinfect door handles, too.
    • Use any type of surface disinfectant available commercially, though you may want one that provides broad protection against different strains of viruses, germs, and bacteria such as Lysol.
  5. Clean the places you use the most often.
    • These include your bedroom, kitchen, dining room, sitting room and bathrooms.

EditBoosting Your Immunity

  1. Vaccinate yourself. Although there is no cure for the flu, you can get vaccinated against the virus every year. This can strengthen your immunity against the condition during cold and flu season. Speak to your doctor about whether getting the flu vaccination is a good option for you.
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    • You must get the flu vaccine every year. Your vaccine from the previous year does not carry over into the new flu season.
    • Anyone from the ages of six months to those over 65 years of age can receive a flu vaccine.[14] (Over 65 can take Pneumococcal vaccine (Pneumovax) as well.)
    • Be aware that some soreness is normal at the injection site.[15]
    • You may also be able to get the vaccine in the form of a nasal spray. This does not inactivate the virus the way the shot does, but it can minimize the symptoms of the influenza virus.[16]
    • Report any side effects such as fever, soreness or body aches to your doctor, especially if they are persistent.[17]
    • Obtain a copy of the Vaccine Information Statement. Anyone who gets a flu shot must receive a copy of this statement, which explains the type of vaccine you received as well as how it keeps you safe and eliminates flu epidemics.[18]
  2. Recognize that there is no cold vaccine. Unlike influenza, there is no vaccine for the common cold. The best way to prevent it is by adopting good hygiene habits and taking care of your overall health.[19] Maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly, wash your hands and so on.
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  3. Avoid contact with sick individuals. Try and avoid close and/ or prolonged contact with anyone you know has a cold or who exhibits signs of a cold. This may keep any bacteria or virus from invading your system and getting you sick.[20]
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    • Try and kindly excuse yourself from situations with sick persons. For example, if a friend or colleague is speaking with you or wants to go out, simply say something like, “I’m so sorry, I need to excuse myself because I have a prior commitment.”
    • If the sick person lives with you, try and not share the same space as long as the person is sick.
  4. Use your own items. Make sure to not share items with anyone who is sick. This can minimize the risk of bacteria or virus invading your system.[21]
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    • Consider using disposable utensils such as cups and forks while someone in your home is sick.
    • Label items to minimize the risk of contamination.
    • Wash any utensils about which you are unsure using hot water or, preferably, a dishwasher.[22]
  5. Try alternative medicines. Some people believe in the benefits of alternative medicine to prevent and relieve colds and the flu. Although there is no definitive scientific evidence that vitamin C, Echinacea, or zinc can prevent or relieve a cold or the flu, you may find these remedies work for you.
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    • Despite popular myths to the contrary, there isn’t much evidence that taking Vitamin C can prevent a cold or nip one in the bud.[23]
    • Taking Echinacea at the first sign of a cold may decrease the severity and duration of your symptoms.[24]
    • Studies on Zinc have shown that it can reduce symptoms of a cold if taken within a day of symptoms starting.[25]
    • Avoid intranasal zinc, which may permanently damage your sense of smell.[26]

EditNursing Early Symptoms

  1. Keep your body hydrated. Drink enough fluids to replace any you through a fever or producing mucus.[27]
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    • Keeping yourself hydrated can help you feel better and minimize the risk of getting more sick.[28]
    • Women need at least nine cups of liquid daily to keep their bodies hydrated, while men need at least 13.[29]
    • Have water, juice, broth, or non-caffeinated sodas or teas.[30]
    • Stay away from caffeinated drinks including coffee and tea because they can dehydrate you and exacerbate symptoms.[31]
  2. Sip chicken soup. Studies now show that the longtime home remedy of chicken soup can help keep a cold at bay and relieve symptoms.[32] Sipping chicken soup may help you nip a cold in the bud or help minimize your symptoms of a cold and flu.[33] Even the steam from the hot soup can help alleviate symptoms.
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    • Eat chicken soup to help relieve the congestion that accompanies cold and the flu.[34] Chicken soup can prevent dehydration.[35]
    • Be aware that chicken soup acts as an anti-inflammatory to your system. It also temporarily increases movement of mucus through the nose, which in turn limits the amount of time the virus is in the lining of your nose.[36]
  3. Avoid alcohol and cigarettes. Alcohol and tobacco products may make a cold or the flu worse. Eliminating or limiting these products may reduce the duration of your symptoms and help prevent complications.[37]
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  4. Soothe your throat with saltwater. Gargling with a simple saline solution may help a sore throat.[38] Although the benefits are temporary, you can use this remedy as often as you need it to combat inflammation.[39]
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    • Dissolve 1/2 a teaspoon of salt in an 8 oz. glass of warm water to make the saline solution.
    • Swish a mouthful of saltwater for 30 seconds at least twice a day. This can also help relieve any inflammation in your throat related to the cold or flu.[40]
  5. Use lozenges or sprays. Mild analgesics can relieve a sore throat. Products such as lozenges and sprays containing eucalyptus or camphor can also relieve any cold- or flu-related congestion.[41]
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    • Use throat lozenges or apply sprays every two to three hours.[42]
    • Avoid chewing or swallowing throat lozenges because they can numb your throat and cause swallowing difficulties.[43]
  6. Take pain medication. You may have body aches with a cold or the flu. Take an over the counter medication to help relieve any pain, which may also help you relax and more quickly recover from a cold or the flu.
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    • Take acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen sodium to relieve body aches.
  7. Get enough rest. Making sure that you allow your body to rest can relieve your symptoms and help you more quickly recover from a cold or the flu. Stay home from work or school, especially if you have a fever. Getting enough rest also minimizes the risk of you infecting family members, friends, or colleagues.[44]
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    • Get at least 8 hours of sleep per night and take naps, which can help your immune system fight any developing cold or flu viruses.[45]
    • Sleep in a bedroom that is comfortable, warm, and slightly humid (use a humidifier) to help relieve congestion and coughing.[46]


  • The best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated annually. Just vaccinated once does not help, although it reduces the severity of the flu. Taking it annually to build immunity helps.


  • Don’t take your cold or flu to work. It is unfair to colleagues to expose them and you will recover more quickly if you rest for the first day or two of a cold or the flu. Ask your physician for a sick note.

EditRelated wikiHows

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  • Cure a Cold Fast
  • Boost Your Immunity to the Common Cold

EditSources and Citations

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