A: The interventions we use to reduce COVID-19 transmission–such as wearing masks, improving ventilation, and keeping physical distance from other people–don’t target the common cold as well.
Unlike the virus that causes COVID-19, which is transmitted through sharing air with infected people, most of the many viruses that cause the common cold–called rhinoviruses–love to hang around on surfaces. Especially in settings where a lot of children congregate, surfaces can become highly contaminated and dirty hands spread the common cold very effectively. All it takes is one dirty hand on one sandwich.
Some of the viruses that cause the common cold can last on surfaces for a *very* long time, and are harder to kill with soap or hand sanitizer. In fact, adenoviruses can last for up to THREE MONTHS on surfaces, and in special circumstances maybe even longer!! Can you imagine if SARS-CoV-2 had that sort of surface staying power? Yikes!
Here’s a fun case example of just how durable these nasties can be: in 1969, 12 men overwintered at a base in Antarctica. After 17 weeks of complete isolation from the rest of the world in the middle of a South Pole winter, 6 of the men developed symptoms of the common cold. Everyone made a complete recovery, and no one really knows how it happened–but one theory is that the extreme cold, dry weather conditions acted like a deep-freezer for a virus that was lingering on some surface long after the mission’s last contact with the rest of the world. Eventually, one of the men touched that surface and then touched his nose or mouth.
What can we do? Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, using plenty of friction and making sure to get all the surfaces of your hands! Our own Dr. Aparna did a video demo for kids on how to wash hands a few months ago, and since cold season is here, this seems like the perfect time to revisit it!