The common cold is among the most prevalent—and quite possibly the most annoying—viral infection that human beings contract. We tend to be stricken with this virus most often in the spring and fall, yet this virus is present year-round. One of the most common places to catch the virus? At work!

According to the Center for Disease Control, common colds account for the most missed time at work and at school, with an astonishing 22 million days lost each year due to uncomfortable symptoms that make it difficult to carry on daily activities. Contrary to popular belief, the common cold is not a single virus, but a cluster of up to 200 different viruses that can all cause sneezing, stuffy noses, scratchy throats, and a general feeling of malaise.

How is a common cold “caught”?

Catching a cold is a surprisingly simple process; viruses that cause common colds are spread by tiny droplets of mucus that hang in the air after a person coughs or sneezes. Cold viruses are also caused by making contact with surfaces that have been touched by others who have the viral infection. If you fail to wash your hands and face regularly, you may be at increased risk for developing a cold.

How long does a typical cold last?

A typical cold takes place in three phases of development:

Stage one

Early symptoms of a cold can begin in as little as 10-12 hours after a person contract the bug. You may notice that your throat feels unusually scratchy and sore, and you may have less energy than you normally do. If an early-stage cold is caught and contained, it is possible to reduce or even eliminate symptoms that would otherwise put you out of commission.

Stage two

2 to 3 days after infection is when symptoms usually peak. At this point, you may develop other symptoms such as:

  • stuffy or runny nose
  • sore throat
  • sneezing
  • watery eyes
  • fever
  • headache
  • cough

Rest and hydration are essential to reduce the severity of these symptoms, and to recover as you move on to the final phase of your viral infection:

Stage three

As your cold runs the final stage of completion, you’ll continue to battle with your nose–alternating periods of congestion and funniness are not uncommon at this time. You may continue to deal with post nasal drip and coughing as your body actively fights off the infection. Most people are cold-free and symptom-free within two weeks of inception.

We all live, breathe, and work in the same atmospheric soup, and it can be difficult to evade the cold virus completely. If you work in an office or environment with others, it is essential that you safeguard yourself against illness and disease, especially at this time of year when it seems to be at an all-time high.

Follow these simple steps for preventing the spread of common colds at school and at work:

You might feel well enough to report to work, not to mention that you don’t want to burn up your PTO days! However, your co-workers don’t want what you have! Prevent the spread of your virus at work using these 10 strategies.

1. Wash your hands often–as often as needed

Washing your hands after coming in contact with common surfaces, after using the restroom, and before consuming food and drink is the single most important thing you can do to stop the spread of common colds in your workplace.

If you are unable to get to the restroom for regular hand washing, consider carrying some hand sanitizer with you. Use that generously and as needed to safeguard against picking up wayward germs and bacteria that can linger on files, desks, phones, and computer keyboards. If you must share these items, do what you can to clean your hands thoroughly on a regular basis to avoid catching the virus.

2. Avoid touching your face

Your face—specifically your mouth, nose, and eyes, are open gateways to the rest of your body. If contaminated hands are coming near your face, you run the risk of spreading the virus through their contact. Do you have to work nearby someone who’s suffering with a common cold? Or, do you share a public area with someone with this virus? Remain vigilant about not touching your face.

3. Refrain from smoking

Cigarette smoke can irritate your airways and make you more susceptible to disease and infection. Even exposure to passive smoke, when others around you are smoking, makes you more vulnerable to catching a cold. Remove yourself from these situations when your respiratory system could be compromised, and you’ll be less likely to contract something.

4. Use disposable items or keep tight control over your own

It can be tempting to use a cup from the lounge for a quick cup of coffee on break, but do you really know where that cup has been? Using disposable cups, cutlery, and plates will help to reduce potential contact with the virus, and it will prevent you from using contaminated dinnerware. If you must use a regular mug, glass, or plate, consider using your own, and bringing it with you to and from work to reduce the likelihood that it could be subjected to contamination by others.

5. Keep shared surfaces clean

Door knobs, cabinets, keyboards, chairs, and counters are all places where viruses can reside as they are transferred from one person to another. Wipe these surfaces frequently, and use soap and water or a disinfectant solution to eliminate germs from surfaces that many people use during the day.

6. Contain sneezes and coughs as best you can

If you are sick, do your best to contain sneezes and coughs by covering your mouth and nose, and washing hands as needed afterward. Using tissues or paper towels to contain any mucous that may be present will do much for reducing the spread of the virus. If you are using tissues or paper towels, dispose of them promptly after using—leaving them lying around on desktops or placing in pockets will spread germs quickly.

7. Control your stress

Studies show that mental, emotional, and physical stress can compromise the effectiveness of your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness that is floating around. Fortify yourself by practicing self-care, doing some meditation to find your inner calm, and giving yourself the support you need to weather stresses in your life. Stress is a normal part of life, but it doesn’t have to decrease your quality of life and negatively impact your health.

8. Amping up your zinc and vitamin C intake

Zinc is an essential mineral that is found in nuts, meat, fish, and other foods. Many zinc supplements are on the market today specifically for the purpose of fighting off the common cold–finding and taking one should be standard protocol during cold season.

Adequate vitamin C intake helps to fortify cells, making them more resistant to disease and degeneration. This important vitamin can be found in abundance in citrus foods, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, and strawberries. A daily glass of orange juice will do wonders for keeping the cold at bay.

9. Avoid handshakes and high fives…….for now

Handshakes and other forms of professional contact with others may be standard protocol in your office, but they do not have to take place if you are concerned about getting ill. Others will understand your desire to stay well, and many will graciously interact with you minus the physical contact. Instead, opt for an elbow bump.

10. Maintain a healthy lifestyle

One of the most important things you can to do stave off illness during peak times of the year is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Eating healthful foods, exercising, drinking enough water, and getting restful sleep are all important elements for keeping your body looking and functioning at its best.

How to treat a cold if you become ill

Not to worry—if you catch a cold, there are several things you can do to reduce the severity of symptoms.

  • Over the counter medications can help to relieve fever, headaches, and pains. Many standard pain relievers also have cold formulas that work to reduce all symptoms present with common colds.
  • Decongestants, antihistamines, and expectorants work to eliminate watery eyes, sneezing, coughing, and excess mucous that cause discomfort. Take these medications as directed. And, talk to your doctor if your symptoms persist for more than two weeks.
common cold spreads at work
Avoid these 6 foods if you’re sick from a common cold.

Final Thoughts on Stopping the Spread of the Common Cold at Work

At-home remedies for colds are quite popular as well, and some of them work very effectively. Nasal salines solutions can be used to ease congestion, and honey is very efficient at reducing troublesome cough symptoms, especially at night. Of course, resting and staying hydrated are essential pieces of recovery; give yourself a little TLC, and you’ll find yourself stomping out those symptoms for good.

While viruses are alive and “bugging” us all year long, these tips for preparing for the cold (and flu) season will help you reduce your chances of getting sick. You and the company that you keep at work all deserve to be healthy and happy. So take care of yourselves and each other, and you’ll weather cold season like a champ!