How Do I Avoid Catching Cold or Flu From My Sick Partner?

Jan 26, 2018 · 117 comments
anonymous (Paris)
By the time my spouse or I am sick, the person who is ill has already been contagious and spreading the cheer. I don't try to quarantine but try to use common sense. What I do do is get a flu shot every year. Curiously, we've never had the flu or a cold at the same time.
Sheilah McAdams (Ohio)
For 4 days, 5 family members and I sat in close proximity in a small nursing home room around my mother' death bed. One family member had developed a bad cold on the airplane on the way in, and other family members were somewhat unhappy about being exposed to her illness. I broke into my pandemic influenza supplies, and brought individual hand sanitizer bottles, boxes of anti-viral tissues, and cans of Lysol spray to distribute to each person. We regularly cleaned all surfaces which my sick sibling had touched, cleaned our hands frequently, and she kept her lower face covered with the tissues, which were then deposited in a small wastebasket placed by her chair. In spite of the lack of sleep, poor diet, and stress of the occasion, no one else became ill, although the cold had raced through her family members back home.
Svirchev (Route 66)
Don't get a cold in the first place: Vitamin C 5-10 mg very day for life. Inexpensive and it works. Double-dose to reduce symptoms and reduce recovery time if one does get a cold. A solution made of Vitamin C-water delivered with an eye-ddropper directly into the nose will rapidly reduce symptoms.
Syliva (Pacific Northwest)
And the stomach "flu" is contagious until several days AFTER the person starts feeling well. If you doubt me, check the CDC. Check norovirus or gasteroenteritis. Knowing this will save your family a lot of grief.
pmwarren (Los Angeles)
if you are a manager, do what I did when I was working: I would send sick folks home if they were symptomatic, telling them I would cover the sick day.
Jack (NYC)
If you get sick you should be responsible enough to isolate yourself. Cancel meetings, work from home. I can't tell you the number of "I'm sick" people that seem to have no qualms with coughing and sneezing their way through meetings. Do all people have the luxury of sick time? No. But enough do. Don't be a hero. Stay home. Also, who are these people who share toothbrushing rinse cups? EEK.
Vince (Bethesda)
FWIW my wife the doctor said it was one of the major advantages of condoms. Many infections are spread by asymptomatic individuals.
Kimberly (Chicago)
I can’t imagine it’s avoidable. I followed all of this advice, and still got the flu, from my husband, that wasn’t covered by this year’s vaccine. He was horribly sick from it - possible partial hearing loss in one ear as a result of an ear infection due to this flu! - and while I didn’t get ill at anything close to the level he did, I nonetheless got it. My best advice: If you have it or even suspect that you do, STAY HOME. I sure wish the acquaintance from whom he caught it had been that considerate.
JA (Vermont)
I've followed all the advice in here at one time or another and sometimes get sick and sometimes don't. But no one has mentioned the handshake. In a business setting, where I work, I"m offered a handshake many times a day. It's rude to refuse although I try to find excuses during flu season. Wear gloves? Ignore the offered hand? Shake and wash? I'd love to hear suggestions.
Chris (Portland)
Germs. It's about germs, right? Think about it.
Sarah Glesmann (Pittsburgh)
I am currently in Japan where many people wear masks. Do these help prevent illness?
Lifelong New Yorker (NYC)
I'd say it depends on the mask. They don't all have the same purpose. For example, some masks are only intended to block cold air. Read the packaging.
RR (Wisconsin)
Google it -- there are several reputable scientific studies that have looked at this, some in detail.
V (CA)
The safe way to avoid catching your partner's cold/flu is to NOT sleep in the same bed. If there isn't another bed available sleep on a sofa or worse case on the floor. Better than getting sick, missing work or passing cold/flu on to your kids.
Maria (Astoria)
Walk away from coughing people on subway/ in public. Cover mouth/nose with scarf or mask if you are stuck near coughing person. Breathe through your nose (nasal passage hairs and mucus are natural defense to germs and dust). Keep your body and head warm. Use humidifier while you sleep to keep your nasal membranes and eyes healthy in dry winter. Get good sleep.
LG Bischoff (California)
I have not had a cold since I started brewing my own kombucha and making my own yogurt over 1.5 years ago. I know this sounds crazy. I would even hug sick family members to test my immunity, and share the bed with sick hubby. No colds. I twice felt a sore throat start but then slammed 4 oz of homemade kombucha and it went away. My family members mocked me until they saw what was happening and converted. Did you know over half the body’s immune cells are in the digestive tract/stomach? Coincidence? I don’t think so.
EnnBee (Miami)
Yes! It's true. As soon as my husband or co-workers begin to feel sick, I make extra efforts to get in some ginger, turmeric, green tea, make sure to eat lots of vegetables, get enough rest and sweat a lot at the gym. I try to be mindful and honest with myself about how I'm feeling and it's worked! Like you, I haven't gotten sick for a very long time, and I still share a bed with my husband, share office supplies at work, help take care of others when they're not feeling well... and I come out unscathed. Gut health is so important.
fragilewing (Outta Nowhere)
It is not coincidence, the gut microbiome had a major impact on immunity. I got fewer cases of colds and flu when Polish friends told me to stop putting my hands in cold water during the winter. Antioxidants helped, particularly big doses of vitamin c, and immune stimulant herbs like echinacea and goldenseal. It is important to defend when one is exposed or going into situations which can easily result in exposure. One has to act the moment one feels even the slightest suspicion that one might be getting ill. My favorite weapon is a homeopathic called Osillicoccinum. It delivers a warning to the immune system to be vigilant. I combine it with extra antioxidants and aspirin. Antioxidants help give the edge to the immune system. Lowering inflammation with aspirin helps. For a sore throa, at fist signs, gargling with hot salt water, and drinking hot water or tea will help bring more immune cells. The most important thing is to build up one's resistance. A healthy gut microbiome is important, as is having a body which is well-furnished with a complete network of antioxidants, and is well-nourished. I had major immune system problems and chronic viral infection with hepatitis B, and Epsein Barr, which I was able to resolve using supplements and diet. I have also worked with leukemia in cats which is virally stimulated and with the Marek's virus in chickens. Read Dr. Majid Ali regarding oxygen homeostasis, and "Pets at Risk", Dr. Al Plechner..
Jim (Pittsburgh)
I just found out that tamiflu has a preventive dose and that has work for me
Katherine (Quincy, IL)
Wash your hands as much as possible and don't touch your face.
Karen (LA County)
Snuggling with my husband and three mutts every night keeps our immune systems strong. We never get colds.
Think (Wisconsin)
Is there anything the healthy spouse can do to avoid getting sick also? Shouldn't the person asking the question be the sick spouse, wondering, "What can I do, when I am sick, to protect my spouse and family members from also getting sick?" With the question phrased in that fashion, the answers would be as follows - addressed to the person who is sick: 1. Go sleep in a separate room, in a separate bed; 2. Avoid contact with other family members. That means staying put in your bed as much as possible. 3. Do not come out to the living room or family room to watch television. 4. Do not touch anything that healthy people will be touching. 5. That means the TV remote - do not touch. 6. Do not come out of your room, and walk around the house coughing and spreading your germs. 7. And if you must gargle and rinse, do so in a separate sink that no others are using, or, wash the sink out with hot water, soap and bleach after each use. 8, Finally, if you must be around others, wear a mask that covers your nose and your mouth.
Martha (NY, NY)
You, Mr. or Ms. Think, do not live in a small apartment. Those of us who do, do not have an extra bed. let alone an extra bedroom. Since reading is hard to do when you have the flu, a television is a godsend. You do have to use the bathroom and you might have to cough or sneeze on the way. You do not have an extra bathroom. And if you have the flu, you do not have the energy to bleach the sink and scrub the refrigerator handles. I live alone. I am infecting no one as I am also retired. On the other hand, there's no one to bring me that cup of tea that would help me warm up and hydrate. I do not have the flu or even a cold, but I'm sure that if I did and If I still shared this apartment, your advice would be irrelevant.
Betty (North Port, FL)
Why don’t we use masks when we need to go out in public for our prescriptions, or using public transportation, etc.? The Chinese have been doing that for yesrs.
BayAreaGal (SF Bay Area)
To Think (Wisconsin) and Martha (NY): My husband had the flu TWICE between Dec 22nd and January 23rd. My husband and I DO, in fact, live in a VERY small house - 800 sf and one bathroom. During his illnesses, I was relentless in following the exact steps that Think notes above but we added two more: 1) He carried a hand towel with him everywhere; if/when he had to cough, he coughed into that fluffy towel and it caught everything. 2) I used a mask for part of the time in our house. We also slept in different rooms and since he had to use the bathroom, I cleaned it relentlessly, and I removed my toothbrush from the room & kept it in the office/tv room where he did not go while he was sick. (Since he could obviously need to cough and not have the towel in hand). I did not get the flu in either of these circumstances, and I hadn't gotten a flu shot. He had tamiflu in both cases, which didn't really shorten the duration that much, but we wanted to do whatever we could. If this helps anyone, I'm happy to relay how we dealt with it.
Jean (Holland, Ohio)
I hate to say it: what is happening with the dog in the photo won't help if you want to limit germ spread.
Lifelong New Yorker (NYC)
It's unlikely the dog has the human version of the flu.
Alex (NYC)
The real answer (from a real doctor): you can take TamiFlu (prescription needed) to prevent getting the flu from those around you who have the flu. TamiFlu is FDA approved to treat OR prevent the flu. Not sure why this article didn’t mention this? Do your research NYT journalists!
Ted George (Paris)
Actually, opinions are divided on its efficacy. Discussed in another NYT article.
Marcelo Lannes (Montreal, Canada)
It is mentioned in the article... “Some doctors will prescribe family members an antiviral drug for added protection.”
Kimberly (Chicago)
My husband ended up in the ER with a fever of 102.8. They got it under control with Tylenol. The only mention of Tamiflu was their opinion that it has some bad side effects. We got the distinct impression they considered it to be a last resort. That’s all I know.
Lisa (Sunnyvale CA)
And be sure each family member uses a separate hand towel if you are all using the same bathroom. Another possibility during flu season would be those disposable paper guest towels.
Sandy (Chicago)
Isolate cups, dishes and utensils. Every family member should have their own set of those--buy personalized mugs ahead of time (easy to find); mark the bottoms of dishes, glasses and handles of utensils with different colors of nail polish (my mom's trick), and/or stock up on disposables...and dispose of them promptly. Sorry, environmentalists, but when a family member has the flu it's no time to be green. Human life & health have priority.
Waleed Khalid (New York, New York)
As a general message to those who think hand sanitizer is the way to go for all infections- hand sanitizers are great, but they are effectively only partially useful. They kill quite a bit, but there is no way to remove the ones still living, unlike washing your hands. Also, many bacteria and other microbes are resistant to the alcohol in hand sanitizer, at least resistant for the 10seconds it takes for the alcohol to evaporate. Hand washing is the number one way to effectively kill and remove microbes from your hands- though in a pinch hand sanitizer can be used as a stopgap.
Cozy Pajamas (Boulder, CO)
We wash our hands religiously if not obsessively with soap and hot water We avoid public places as much as reasonably possible We eat at home (mostly) We get new toothbrushes monthly We don’t get flu shots My spouse teaches at a grade school with a daily full-spectrum of viral and bacterial adventures We garden We go to bed early -we don’t always sleep well, but we always sleep long We make a conscious effort yo moderate our exposure to unchecked emotions (like television and Harvey Weinstein stories We are in our early 60’s We imbibe alcohol infrequently but never to excess We have no chronic illnesses We take no supplements We are moderately active We take no drugs other than ocassional aspirin We have an active social life with a wide circle of friends We prefer to orchestrate a social gathering in our home over dining out We rarely fall ill or get the flu - maybe once each in last 15 years We feel very blessed We belong to a CSA where we get raw milk, fresh pastured eggs, greens and ocassionally a quarter steer, half lMb or quarter pig for the freezer We drink coffee every morning We still love McDonald’s and Burger King and pizza about once a month
publius (new hampshire)
How interesting! Nice to let us know. Please do keep us informed with regular updates.
alan (ann arbor, mi)
You should get flu shots, it helps the rest of us.
Lifelong New Yorker (NYC)
Not sure how this helps the rest of us but, good for you.
Katie (Seattle, WA)
There's a big difference between the flu and a cold with flu-like symptoms, so the following is to stop a cold from spreading to your partner or family. The best way to avoid getting people sick is to make sure (1) your partner doesn't COUGH into the your airspace and have her/him only cough into a heavy towel and an stifle a cough if possible; and (2) wash your hands a lot and NEVER touch your hands to your nose or rub your eyes where the germs can penetrate easily into the membranes; and (3) wipe mutual surfaces, ie. remote, fridge, faucet, toilet handles, etc., with a cloth wetted with a 50/50 solution of hydrogen peroxide and water to disinfect it. My partner never caught my colds following these rules. If you have masks, they're fine, but not for heavy coughing. It's best to use a heavy towel that your partner touches only. There's also a BIG difference in contagiousness between the flu and a cold or flu/cold; the flu cold may feel like the flu, with aches, sore throat, burning in the nasal passage/lungs, but it's not the same contagiousness as the real flu due to the size of the particles, so its vitally important to protect against the flu. The best course of action if you have the flu is to follow the above steps and never breath near a person who is sick. Masks are important. It's really hard to avoid the flu, but it's worth it, and even a minor case will be easier to deal with than a full-blown case because your body can overcome it easier.
Jean (Holland, Ohio)
Change the pillowcases every day that someone is ill if you have to sleep in the same bed. Regardless of where you sleep: Pull back the bedding and spray the sheets near the head and shoulders with Lysol every day, morning, and spray both top and outer side. Spray each layer of bedding and the top cover, too. If you sleep in the same bed, spray the area an hour before you retire. Spray the headboard, the nightstand, and wipe the phone, tv controls, light switches and doorknobs with disinfectant wipes. Disinfect every countertop several times a day. Make sure the disposable sack with the tissues is dumped out of the home every day. Make sure the toilet surfaces are disinfected at least twice every day. If you have disposable gloves in the home ( as you should, for various chores),use them when handling the bedding and other items you disinfect. Disinfect the kitchen surfaces and frig door and microwave buttons more than once a day.
Barbara (NYC)
Masks, people, masks! Simple & effective.
Curzon Ferris (SW United States)
In Japan, sick people wear masks in public. Why can't we realize that the responsibility to protect others is crucial? Whenever I tell another American about this, their eyes glaze over. I guess that somehow we feel that it is an imposition on our freedom to expect sick people to take a simple step to protect the rest of us.
trenton (washington, d.c.)
Most public restrooms, whether in government offices, stores or restaurants, no longer offer hot water, only cold. Doesn't seem adequate for germ-washing fingers and hands.
Allan (Rydberg)
It would be a public service if you had the courage to tell how colds are really spread. By our fingers carrying virus particles to a very sensitive area inside our nose, You never will. and you will not print this.
Waleed Khalid (New York, New York)
That isn’t the only way, or even the main way! Most of the time the transmission is via touching a surface that a sick person touched and then forgetting about it or not washing hands afterwards and eating or maybe rubbing your eye, etc.
Melpo (Downtown NYC)
Well Allan, you are wrong about some of that. I am curious as to why you are so convinced that your "knowledge" about disease transmission is so special that the NYTimes would try to suppress it.
Dearth Vader (Cyberspace)
It appears that you are wrong.
Cliff (Virginia)
Spend the winter in a warm climate. It is the cold climate, which dries out our membranes, making them into dry cracked places where viruses can lodge and not be flushed away, that is the cause of the "cold season".
Steph T. (Phoenix, AZ)
My cold hadn’t abated after a month now, here in Phoenix (“it’s a dry heat”).
Lifelong New Yorker (NYC)
Luckily there are inexpensive humidifiers for those of us who can't afford to "spend the winter in a warm climate".
It's really tough. Short of moving (never a solution) there's really no good answer. As stated ... best to stay away from person who is sick and work like crazy to get rid of the bad cold or flu. Neti pots are my go-to. Also, don't forget to keep temper in check. Good luck with that one!
E C (Texas)
If I recall correctly, high dose of vitamin C can reduce the chance of getting the cold so is taking Zn. These have been validated by clinical trials. While these should not be taken regularly, taking them when someone around you is sick is a good idea. Another thing my doctor told me is to replace the toothbrush which may contain bacteria to attach the upper respiratory tracks that are compromised by the virus to reduce infection.
Jean (Holland, Ohio)
I cannot fathom why every grocery and drugstore checkout counter doesn't have hand sanitizer when it is cold and flu season. Also, the employees should be wiping the counter and the buttons and pens customers use every few minutes with disinfectant.
Joanne Gorelick (New Jersey)
Karen, did all the doctors you spoke with fail to mention the benefit of a good vitamin D status in avoiding the flu? If they didn't mention it, you should find more astute doctors to interview for your columns; if they did mention it and you left it out of your column, the NY Times should find someone else to report for this column.
Jean (Holland, Ohio)
The British Medical Journal article came to the conclusion that, for every 33 people regularly taking Vitamin D supplements as part of a balanced diet, ONE of them would not experience a cold or flu infection during the year.
Neil M (Texas)
For heavens sake, is this article even necessary especially in the NYT. Most of its readers at least in NYC live in crowded apartments that in Texas- would amount to places for pets. If you live with a spouse with a bad cold, grin and bear it. I would rather have a cold from a spouse than someone I barely know at a bar - where I just shook hands or perhaps gave a totally in Weinstein kiss. This story belongs over Christmas or thanksgiving issues when stories are hard to come by.
Lifelong New Yorker (NYC)
Thanks for your concern.
Daisy (undefined)
Since people are contagious before symptoms arise, we should always be courteous towards others, especially our family, by covering sneezes and coughs, washing hands and cleaning door handles. During a recent holiday get together at my mother's house 5 family members came down with a horrid cold, one after the other, except for myself. I was taking large doses of olive leaf extract, which is a virus killer. And I had no choice but to sleep in the same bed as my sick husband.
Natalia Schmidt (California)
Only a few people mention wearing a face mask. It’s easy to put in and take out, I have one in my pockets and use every time I go to a public place like a store or a clinic. Even when I’m not sick myself. Being immunocompromised due to leukemia made me aware of multitude of germs around me. After a while you don’t even notice the mask and it’s harder to touch your mouth and nose with dirty hands if you wear one. I also keep disinfecting wipes in my car and clean my hands and car surfaces after such public visits. I think the healthy spouse should wear a mask to protect herself or himself as the sick person my have difficulty breathing, along with sneezing into a mask. Seems simple enough. Another advantage to a mask - people keep distance from you:) Don’t be afraid to look weird, everybody knows we have a terrible influenza season.
Maureen O. (Sacramento CA)
Hand wipes in the car are great and easy. Just think of what you hav touched in that store or restaurant, from doorknobs to money!
Herman (California)
To prevent catching it from your spouse, do what I do: don't get vaccinated, go to the public restroom and touch all the fixtures twice daily along followed by a period of face touching. That way, you can assure that you will get it from some one else first, and you won't have the anguish of blaming your beloved for your misery.
limbic love (New York, N.Y.)
That is sad and funny.
David Bruce (Franklin, TN)
Since our office shares a public restroom in the hallway with a children's dentist office, that will definitely work for me.
Matt Cook (Bisbee)
DON’T EVER WASH YOUR HANDS! Wash your hands AND fingers. Make lots of suds with soap and warm water; rub the foam around your hands and fingers; take each finger into the surrounding other hand and twist three or four times; rinse well; dry. I was a County Health Inspector for fifteen years, saw a majority of people whose hand hygiene was perfunctory at best. Spent much time teaching this method in each inspection. Probably the most significant professional act of my career in Public Health.
Edie Clark (Austin, Texas)
I'm a retired public school teacher who is immune compromised, so avoiding infections is crucial to me. As a teacher, I was exposed to germs regularly, with over a hundred kids passing through my room every day. My daughter, who is a nurse had this excellent advice- wash your hands often. If you can't get to a sink, use hand sanitizer. I kept a large bottle of hand sanitizer on my desk in my classroom , and encouraged my students to use it. It's a habit I've kept ever since. It helps to prevent all kinds of infections. I keep a small bottle on my purse, and use it often when out in public. (I also try not to touch doorknobs, handrails, etc with my clean hands, using a tissue, or paper towel instead. ) Last summer on our adventure cruise to the Amazon, a number of our fellow passengers came down with stomach bug, including my husband, but I stayed healthy, for which I credit my obsessive hand washing habit.
Clara Coen (Chicago)
I am also immune compromised. My recommendation is also to wash your hands every time after you handle passes through many hands before it gets to yours...and when you wash your hands and fingers,add your wrists for good measure!
Ed (Old Field, NY)
When you marry, you promise to do everything together.
EmCee (Texas)
Everything they said: plus Start pushing ZINC lozenges and ECHINACEA tincture/tea/lozenge; they tap your immune system and if/when you get sick, you will get well FASTER... Also, because these tap the system, GINSENG helps restore it. I still remember when my spouse told me he'd never felt so sick in his life. I took that moment to exact a promise that "when" I got sick, he would stay home and take care of me. But I didn't get it. It can happen.
emr (Planet Earth)
"Of course, if your illness starts a few days after your spouse’s, you know who’s likely to blame." It would be rather silly to "blame" the sick spause for the flu that you caught.
Aristotle Gluteus Maximus (Louisiana)
Imagine your partner has Ebola. Then what would you do? Flu is more contagious than Ebola. If he/she has Ebola you aren't going to worry about hurting their feelings by isolating them from healthy humankind.
jeffrey dach (davie)
my son was recently hospitslized in NYC for influenza B. the hospital gave him a vitamin c in his IV bag. he seemed to improve shortly thereafter.
Euphemia Thompson (Westchester County, NY)
More likely, the vitamin C was to counteract the fact that he wasn't eating anything with vitamin C in it. As a flu patient, he wasn't likely to be peeling an orange or squeezing a lemon on his filet of sole.
Maryj (virginia)
I have read that humidity and hydration are important. Drink a LOT of water, especially if you feel like you're starting to come down with something. Use a humidifier whenever your heat is on.
Occupy Government (Oakland)
if you cough into your sleeve, who does the laundry?
Jean (Holland, Ohio)
Wear disposable gloves when handling laundry of someone who has been ill.
Maureen O. (Sacramento CA)
A box of disposable gloves is a good thing to have on hand. I also use them for handling raw chicken and other meats.
margot rossi (north carolina)
That's all you've got? This is the same advice for decades. Have we no other options? Is there really no progress on our understanding of preventing and treating the flu? How about offering readers information on alternative medicines for prevention and treatment? I have many patients who tell me about alternative medicines they've used successfully.
Joanne Gorelick (New Jersey)
There are MANY ways to strengthen the immune system and avoid the flu--and even recover from it. We are NOT going to hear about them because the underlying premise of our healthcare system is that nutrients cannot treat disease or illness. As long as this is the premise, people are wasting their money when they go to conventional medicine doctors. People need to buck the system and do their own research. It is pretty easy nowadays...
caligirl (California)
My husband and I got the flu shot in late December, two weeks before flying to NYC for a few days (2 different airplanes there and back). Managed, somehow, not to get a cold or the flu -- I was shocked! Don't get me wrong -- I've been scrupulous about washing hands and avoiding, as much as possible, touching common germ sites like door handles in public places. Other than that, I have to say we eat pretty well, get plenty of sleep and regularly work in our garden and handle our chickens. I don't use antiseptic wipes or antibacterial soap...I really do believe exposing ourselves to life's flora and fauna helps us weather these storms most of the time.
Jean (Holland, Ohio)
No matter the season, I use disinfecting hand wipes to wipe arm rests, seatbelt buckle, tray and latch, seat pocket, and buttons for controls. Then I tuck that wipe into the envelope it came in, and use another to wipe my hands. Also I disinfect after handling menus in restaurants. For those of us who at high risk of pneumonia ( like asthma patients), these are important precautions.
Sutter (Sacramento)
Living with a spouse that has a cold or flu it is tough not to get infected. But, try sitting in the aisle seat in the back of a full aircraft by the restroom on a 7-hour (6-hour flight plus 1-hour of taxiing) flight in cold and flu season. I did wash my hands, I got sick anyway. People line up and wait for the restroom and you get to be next to most if not all of the passengers in coach at some point.
Joanne Gorelick (New Jersey)
Skip the flu shot and take vitamin D, zinc, and various herbal remedies... Washing the hands too often destroys the natural flora of the skin.
paulie (earth)
Flora of the skin on your hands? Where do you people come up with this stuff? Wash your hands!
OnthePath1 (New Jersey)
Even Louis Pasteur conceded before dying, 'the germ is nothing--the terrain is everything.' Wash your hands too often and you will wind up with a skin infection, to boot!
WH (Yonkers)
and young children bring home what is in the school.
M. Lewis (NY, NY)
A bad cold is not the same as the flu. If you don't get a fever but cough or have sinus symptoms, it is probably a cold. A flu shot will not prevent a cold. It should prevent flu. I've not had the flu this season (got a flu shot in November), but I've had a lot of coughing and icky throat (no sore throat, just a lot of congestion), sneezing and needing to blow my nose. Taking a mucus thinner (Guafenesin) helps prevent sinus infection but the cold still has to run its course.
Jazzie (Canada)
I would suggest that people listen to a program on Canada’s national broadcaster, the CBC, entitled ‘Flu breath: sick people can spread the flu virus just by breathing’. It was broadcast this morning on ‘Quirks and Quarks’, a superb science news program hosted by Bob McDonald. It is among the most listened to shows on CBC. It is also available on Sirius and some American Public radio stations. You can listen to the episode at:
B. (Brooklyn)
It stands to reason that you can become ill from breathing sick people's exhalations. If I can smell someone's bad breath on the subway, then more than a smell is going up my nose. As for the as-yet well spouse: Separate everything is in order. And when the hot chicken soup comes walking through the bedroom door, be sure to keep your mouth and nose under the covers until the bearer of such medicinal fare leaves the room. Then drink up, get up, and push the tray to the threshold.
Karen (Michigan)
I had an extremely severe flu many years ago--so bad, at one point I seriously thought that I might die. I slept in a separate bedroom/library. Didn't come out until after my husband left for work. During the day, I kept the kitchen sink filled with ammonia water and a fresh cloth. I changed the water several times a day, and I wiped down every surface that I touched during the day, including the phone, door knobs, everything. At night I keep to my room. My husband never got sick. Nor did he ever after that catch flu from me.
Larry D (Brooklyn)
Nice that you HAVE a separate bedroom/library. Me, I have to sleep in the conservatory or music room. Or kick the maid out of her room and have her share with the butler.
theresa (new york)
You thought you might die and yet you had the strength to wipe down all those surfaces every day? When I've had the flu I could barely get out of bed, so maybe you just had a head cold.
anne (il)
I've successfully avoided my husband's colds many times over the years through isolation. He stays out of the kitchen and common rooms, I sleep in a guest room, sanitize door handles he's used, wear disposable gloves when handling his used dishes, etc., and I change those gloves often. It's a hassle for a week or so, but it works.
SHD (Newton MA)
I just avoided catching my husband's very bad flu which evolved into pneumonia. I also regularly avoid catching colds from my young patients who sit across from me in therapy. My secret: A morning hot tea of: 1/2 lemon plus zest, honey, tumeric, ginger, ceyenne pepper, cloves, and cinnamon (1-2 teaspoons of combined spices). I drink this all year long and never miss a day.
Jane K (Northern California)
Why doesn't your husband drink it to avoid flu in your household altogether?
Betsy J Miller (Bloomsburg, PA)
I change all the pillowcases every day, sometimes twice, and wash all the bed linens in hot water with Clorox. Can't hurt, might help, feels good.
Susan (Austin)
My situation exactly. I got the shot he didn’t. On Sunday he started feeling sick. I should have switched beds at that point. Long story short on Wednesday I came down with flu, too. Absolutely miserable. Got Tamiflu yesterday and it is helping. In retrospect I should have moved to the other bedroom at first sign of illness. I took all the other precautions. Flu shot practically worthless this year.
coraspartan (Detroit)
I always sleep in our guest room when either he or I is sick (I prefer that bed; it's more comfortable, so I'm always the one to switch beds). I think it does help a lot.
JeffB (Plano, Tx)
We have a policy when sick of never sharing the same tube of toothpaste or the same bed. Great suggestions in the article that should be taken to heart and followed to become habit. We can be a bit lighthearted about this now, but it's just a matter of time before a really serious epidemic hits again so developing good habits now will be a necessity later.
Kathleen Keenan-Takagi (Buffalo NY)
Maintain separate toothbrushes AND TOOTHPASTE.
ECWB (Florida)
If possible, separate bathrooms.
pkarnsr (Lutherville, MD)
Should crowds in movie houses in Baltimore be avoided?
Wood Gal (Minnesota)
I avoid crowded indoor venues like movie theaters and the mall. If I need to go to places like this, I do it first thing in the morning after the air conditioning has run overnight. It's not fool proof but it does help.
Maryj (virginia)
I got the flu this year, and yes I did have the shot. Doctor said the most likely place to get it is somewhere like a supermarket, from someone's cough or sneeze. Please, don't go out if you're sick. If you have no alternative and must go out, wear a mask! If you want to avoid germs go to supermarkets or other public places at the least crowded times.
lelectra (NYC)
YES!!! People are GERMS.
CAR (Boston)
The well spouse should sleep on the couch, until the sick spouse is well!
Billarm (NY)
Wear vinyl gloves.
hlk (long island)
wearing a mask by the sick person is also helpful.
Jean (Holland, Ohio)
Hard to do when they are sneezing.
Don P (New Hampshire)
All good common sense ideas and they work! When your partner has a cold or flu, don’t let the sick partner touch anything you may use, a glass, mug, flatware, food or anything else, and disinfect often and everywhere!
Charlie B (USA)
The commenters citing the recent study are jumping to conclusions. The study found airborne virus, but made no attempt to ascertain if people are getting sick that way. A “suggestion” isn’t conclusion.
Alan (Rochester)
The latest research ( suggests just breathing the same air can spread the flu. Maybe scuba gear would help. As for the flu shot, I get one every year and here I sit making great efforts to cough a lung up. I haven't had the flu in years but this must just be a bad year.
Irene K (Washington DC)
I truly believe that the flu or any other sickness can be spread, not just by contact, but by air too. I know a couple of people who hace received this years flu shot and still managed to get the flu, with a vengence. Seems like this years is really bad.
Steel (Florida)
An N95 mask.
The East Wind (Raleigh, NC)
Of course it is spread through the air- when the sick person coughs or sneezes- by droplets. Drives my crazy when people cough and do not cover their mouth. And no shaking case they DID use that hand to cover a cough.
Multimodalmama (Bostonia)
Stay away and don't breathe. That's about all that will work if you aren't vaccinated (or even if you are vaccinated). Check out the new article in PNAS about how people shed live virus through breathing. The old handwashing thing works for noro - there has never been any validation for respiratory viruses, just theories and old wive's tales repeated so often that they have become the medical equivalent of truthy memes. Also important: get plenty of sleep and take care of yourself to keep up your immunity.
The East Wind (Raleigh, NC)
They are not theories and old wives tales. Influenza can be on surfaces transferred from the sick person- fomites. So even if they don't cough on you, but you clean up their room or take away the chicken soup bowl and then rub your eyes or scratch your nose you can be infected- wash your hands.
E M (Vancouver)
I think there's plenty of evidence to support the theory that hand-washing prevents the spread of respiratory viruses. And can we maybe ditch the term "old wives' tales"? It's 2018.
See also