Cold and flu facts

What surface is the most friendly to the flu virus? Where is the best place to stand when you're talking to a sick person? This New York Times quiz answers these questions and more. Take the quiz or get right to the facts below.

1. If you interact with a person with the flu, you should stand at least 6 feet away from them to avoid getting their germs through speaking, coughing, sneezing and other normal behavior. 

2. The best way to contain the germs expelled in a cough or sneeze is to use a cough-catcher, a flat plastic sheath lined with material similar to a surgical mask.

3. Don't have a cough-catcher? The next best thing is sneezing or coughing into your sleeve. This keeps your hands free of contamination as you go through your day touching door knobs, handrails, and so on.

4. The flu virus is often transmitted when you touch your eyes, mouth, or nose. On average, we touch our face 16 times per hour (stop it, don't do that!).

5. We touch our lips about 8 times an hour, our nostril about 5 times, and eyes about two. Pathogens are commonly spread by contaminated hands touching a mucous membrane like a mouth or nose.

6. Recently having the flu (or something you think is the flu) is not a reason to skip the flu shot. Each year brings different strains of the flu so even though you may have developed immunity to one strain, you are still exposed to the others. A flu vaccine may be able to protect you against all strains.

7. The illness called "influenza" which means "influence" in Italian got its name because early Europeans believed flu epidemics were caused by the movement of the planets, moon, and stars. The word was adopted into English in 1743.

8 The flu virus will live longer on a stainless steel countertop than a tissue, your hands, or a cotton handkerchief. It will live up to 48 hours on a hard surface verses just 8-12 hours on a porous, soft surface.

9. If you touch a contaminated surface, the flu virus will stay alive on your hand for 15 minutes. Washing your hands often and using a sanitizer will reduce transmission to you and others. 

10. During the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, doctors tried to cure patients by prescribing whiskey or cigars, salt water gargle, ice water dousing, or bleeding. Some even tried to surgically extract pus and blood from the chest cavity, however patients almost always died during the procedure! The epidemic caused 50-100 million deaths worldwide. 

So please, wash your hands, don't touch your face, and sneeze into your sleeve. Stay healthy!

ps: you'll be contagious with a cold or flu a day or so before your symptoms start and up to a week after that. If you still have strong symptoms, you're contagious so take the right precautions to not spread your germs.