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Informed Health Online [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-.

Informed Health Online [Internet].

How can you protect yourself from respiratory infections?

Last Update: October 19, 2016; Next update: 2019.

Flu and cold viruses are spread by means of droplet infection: when someone who is infected coughs or sneezes, droplets containing the viruses are released into the air. Viruses can also spread when you blow your nose, ending up on the used tissue and your hands. They can also be easily transmitted from person to person wherever a lot of people touch the same object, like doorknobs or handrails in a subway car or bus. Direct contact like shaking hands or hugging also makes it more likely that you are possibly spreading the virus.

One of the most effective things you can do to protect yourself and others from these viruses is stop them from spreading. More specifically:

  • Wash your hands and your children's hands frequently. Because children do not pay as much attention to personal hygiene and because their immune system is not yet fully matured, they are also more likely to become infected and pass the infection on. Normal soap is good enough. There is no proof that special antibacterial or antiviral soaps are better.
  • Keep your hands away from your face. You are likely to become infected if you touch your mouth or nose after touching an object that has viruses or bacteria on it.
  • Do not drink out of cups or bottles that others have used.

If you have the flu yourself, you can do the following things to help protect others:

  • Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, preferably with a paper tissue.
  • Throw away used tissues immediately and do not leave them lying around. Wash your hands after blowing your nose. Use disposable paper tissues.
  • Avoid shaking hands, hugging or kissing.


  • Andreae S. Lexikon der Krankheiten und Untersuchungen. Stuttgart: Thieme; 2008.
  • Jefferson T, Del Mar CB, Dooley L, Ferroni E, Al-Ansary LA, Bawazeer GA, et al. Physical interventions to interrupt or reduce the spread of respiratory viruses. Cochrane Database Sys Rev 2011; (7): CD006207. [PubMed: 21735402]
  • Longo DL, Fauci AS, Kasper DL, Hauser SL, Jameson JL, Loscalzo J. Harrison’s Principles of internal medicine. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies. 18th ed; 2011.
  • Pschyrembel W. Klinisches Wörterbuch. Berlin: De Gruyter; 2014.
  • IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

    Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. We do not offer individual consultations.

    Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

© IQWiG (Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care)


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