This Is How Long Cold and Flu Germs Can Live on Surfaces Like Doorknobs and Subway Poles

Even if you’re not usually a germaphobe, cold and flu season can have the strongest-willed of us feeling squeamish about touching things like bus and subway poles, doorknobs, and even shaking a stranger’s hand. As many moms like to remind their kids: You don’t know where that hand has been. And during the colder months, when it seems that everyone is sniffling and sneezing, a hands-off policy may seem smart.

But how likely is it really that you’d get sick from touching an infected handrail or countertop?

Pretty likely, Alison Carey, MD, an associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Drexel University, tells Health. “Flu viruses can survive on hard surfaces (like bus poles) and infect another person for 24 to 48 hours,” she says. “Cold viruses don’t survive as long—usually a few hours. But there is evidence that they can survive and be passed on for up to 24 hours.”

RELATED: How Long Does It Take for the Flu Shot to Be Effective?

So yes, it’s entirely possible that someone who has a cold or the flu can sneeze into their hand, then touch a doorknob or bus pole, and anyone who opens the same door or grabs the same pole for the next few hours (and up to a whole day) can catch their illness. The longer the virus sits, the more the possibility of someone catching the cold or flu decreases, Dr. Carey says. “But people can definitely get it from touching bus poles, especially in the five to 10 minutes that elapse from a sick person getting off the bus and someone else getting on,” she says.

Any surface can harbor a cold or flu virus long enough for someone to touch it and get sick, Dr. Carey says, but there are certain germy hotspots like bus and subway poles and doorknobs. Basically, it’s worth being wary of any surface that gets touched again and again during the day, such as: handrails, doors, light switches, faucets, and public transportation poles. “If you’re going through a subway turnstile, that gets touched and touched and touched,” Dr. Carey says.

RELATED: 3 Ways to Stop the Spread of the Flu—Other Than Getting the Shot

So how can you protect yourself, short of wearing latex gloves everywhere you go? It comes down to good hand hygiene and proper sneezing etiquette, Dr. Carey says. “Just wash your hands! And keep them away from your face as much as possible.”

People touch their faces all the time without realizing it, she adds, and that’s an easy way to take a cold virus from the doorknob right into your body. “It’s not that difficult to pass along the viruses,” Dr. Carey says. “That’s why everyone gets sick this time of year.” If you’ve touched an infected surface and then bring your hand up to cover a yawn or rub your eye or scratch your nose, then you’re introducing that virus to a vulnerable spot on your body, and it’s sure as heck going to take advantage.

Keep those hands clean (alcohol-based hand sanitizer can do the trick when a sink isn’t available) and away from your face—and sneeze into a tissue or into the crook of your elbow if you’re already sick. Other than getting the flu shot, it’s one of the best ways to keep the virus from spreading.

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How Flu Spreads

Person to Person

People with flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away. Most experts think that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.

When Flu Spreads

People with flu are most contagious in the first three to four days after their illness begins. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Children and some people with weakened immune systems may pass the virus for longer than 7 days.

Symptoms can begin about 2 days (but can range from 1 to 4 days) after the virus enters the body. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Some people can be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. During this time, those people may still spread the virus to others.

Period of Contagiousness

You may be able to pass on flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.

  • People with flu are most contagious in the first 3-4 days after their illness begins.
  • Some otherwise healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick.
  • Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others with flu viruses for an even longer time.

How Long Do Flu Symptoms Last, and How Long Are You Contagious?

Influenza, commonly referred to as “the flu,” is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by the influenza virus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an uncomplicated influenza infection will last from three to seven days in most people, including children. However, a cough and feelings of weakness or fatigue can last for two weeks or longer.

Some people are at an increased risk for developing flu-related complications. These can include:

  • pneumonia
  • bronchitis
  • sinus infections
  • ear infections

These complications can be due to influenza virus in itself or because of a secondary bacterial infection. Serious flu-related complications can lead to hospitalization and even death.

Additionally, flu infection may make preexisting conditions worse. For example, if you have asthma, you may experience more severe asthma attacks while you have the flu.

You’re at increased risk for developing flu-related complications if you:

  • are 65 years old or older
  • are younger than 5 years old and particularly younger than 2 years old
  • are of Native American (American Indian or Alaska Native) descent
  • are pregnant or two weeks postpartum
  • are extremely obese (BMI of 40 or more)
  • live in a nursing home or long-term care facility
  • have a weakened immune system, such as the kind seen in people with cancer or HIV
  • have a chronic illness, such as asthma, diabetes, or COPD
  • have a liver or kidney disorder

Do some strains of the flu last longer than other strains?

Although different influenza strains don’t generally affect the duration of illness, some strains (and subtypes of influenza A, like H3N2) can cause more severe illness than others.

According to the CDC, influenza A (H3N2) viruses have been associated with more hospitalizations and deaths in children and the elderly than other human influenza subtypes or strains, such as influenza A (H1N1) and influenza B.

Additionally, vaccine effectiveness for influenza A (H3N2) viruses has been generally lower.

Flu vs. cold duration

Despite having some overlapping symptoms, colds and the flu are two separate illnesses. Colds are typically milder than the flu. Cold symptoms will typically resolve in about 7 to 10 days and tend to not come on as fast as the flu. Flu symptoms may last for a couple of weeks.

Learn more about the differences between a cold and the flu.

We have all seen the news reports about the tiny, disgusting germs that are on the surfaces we all encounter every day in our homes and places of work. With cold and flu season upon us, preparations are now being made by many to prevent transmission of viruses, but before you go through drastic measures, there are some important facts about viruses that you should know, such as how long do viruses live on our phones, doorknobs, and keyboards?

There is not one answer to this question. The life of a virus (technically, viruses are not alive) depends on what type of virus it is, the conditions of the environment it is in, as well as the type of surface it is on.

Cold viruses have been shown to survive on indoor surfaces for approximately seven days. Flu viruses, however, are active for only 24 hours.

All viruses have the potential to live on hard surfaces, such as metal and plastic, longer than on fabrics and other soft surfaces. In fact, infectious flu viruses can survive on tissues for only 15 minutes. Viruses tend to also live longer in areas with lower temperatures, low humidity, and low sunlight.

How long these germs are actually capable of infecting you is a different story. In general, viruses are not likely to be a danger on surfaces very long. In fact, while cold viruses can live for several days, their ability to cause infection decreases after approximately 24 hours, and after only five minutes, the amount of flu virus on hands fall to low levels, making transmission much less likely.

The best defense against active viruses remains thorough hand washing. In addition, wiping down surfaces with anti-bacterial or alcohol-based cleaners will help kill viruses and decrease the chances of transmission.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.

Germy Surfaces


Goldmann:
And they are spread by this sort of careless touching of contaminated surfaces. Or for that matter, just directly wiping the snotty nose of a child and getting your hands contaminated.
That’s why he says it’s important to practice good hand hygiene—washing with soap and water, or using a sanitizing gel that contains alcohol.
The flu virus, though, spreads differently—mostly through the air when someone sneezes or coughs.
Goldmann:
So yes, the surfaces can be important, but this is more of a droplet and airborne virus than some of those other cold viruses.
If you’ve got the germ of a science question, call us at 1-800-WHY-ISIT. Or e-mail us from our website, www.scienceupdate.com. If we use your question on the show, you’ll get a free Science Update mug. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.

Making Sense of the Research

How long does a cold virus last? That depends which cold virus you’re talking about. The illness we call a “cold” is actually a collection of symptoms that can be triggered by a wide variety of viruses. Some common types of cold viruses include rhinoviruses (the prefix “rhino” means “nose”), respiratory syncytial viruses (commonly found in babies), and coronaviruses (a nasty strain of coronavirus causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS).
Within these and other groups, there are dozens, even hundreds, of different strains of virus, and they’re constantly mutating. As long as your immune system is working properly, you can’t catch the same virus twice, but there are still plenty more to go around.
As Goldmann explains, cold viruses can live on contaminated surfaces for up to five or six hours. But just touching the surface usually isn’t enough to get you sick: the skin on your hands is a pretty tough barrier for cold germs. When the cold virus does manage to infiltrate your body, it usually gets in through an entrance that isn’t so well guarded, like your nose or your eyes. (Your mouth actually isn’t such a great way in, as it turns out—so kissing is relatively safe.)
Now, few people actually rub their noses or eyes directly on doorknobs, used tissues, or other surfaces that can carry the cold virus. But if you touch these things and then scratch your nose or rub your eyes, you’ve just given the cold virus a free ride into your body. That’s why hand washing is the most effective way to avoid picking up someone else’s cold germs.
The flu virus can spread this way too, but unlike most cold viruses, it’s also carried easily in droplets of moisture in a sneeze or a cough. Because of that, the flu spreads more easily than most colds. Luckily, most flu seasons are dominated by only a handful of different strains of the virus, making it possible to create an effective vaccine that will prevent most cases of illness.
Now try and answer these questions:

  1. How are cold viruses passed from one person to another? Be specific.
  2. How does the flu virus behave differently?
  3. Why is hand washing an effective defense against the cold virus?
  4. Would any of this change if the cold virus could live for a week outside the body? What would be different? Would certain forms of prevention become more or less important?
  5. Suppose only a few different kinds of viruses caused colds. How would our prevention strategy change?

For Educators

CommonCold.org is a comprehensive, updated reference source for information about colds and cold viruses.
The American Lung Association publishes this page of Guidelines for the Prevention and Treatment of Influenza and the Common Cold.
Influenza 1918, an episode of PBS’s The American Experience, details the most devastating epidemic in American history.

Related Resources

Gum and Heart Disease
6-12 | Audio
Dreams & Emotions
6-12 | Audio
Refreshing Blood
6-12 | Audio

Send us feedback about this Science Update >

Do cold and flu viruses stay contagious outside of the body?

Now that the Christmas season is well and truly over, and the winter nights have set in, it can only mean one thing – the cold and flu season is in full effect.

As temperatures start to fall, the chances of catching a cold increase, and so does the risk of spreading it to your family or people around you. With the average person getting a cold two to three times per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it can’t hurt to know how to prevent them as much as you can – including how long they can last outside of the body.

Tame that flu

Cold and flu viruses, despite their fearsome reputation, are actually structurally very weak. So, contrary to popular belief, and contrary to what the many commercials for cleaning products might suggest, these pathogens don’t actually last for weeks, or even days, outside the body. That’s because cold and flu viruses cannot bear the harsh conditions of the dry, outside world, even though they can be ferocious inside the body.
Here’s what you need to know about how long cold and flu viruses stick around for, and how you can protect yourself against them!

What is the cold? What is the flu?

Rhinovirus is the most common viral infectious agent in humans, with coronavirus, parainfluenza and respiratory syncytial virus also being sources. All can lead to serious complications like bronchitis and pneumonia, especially in individuals with respiratory conditions such as asthma, and in those with compromised immune systems, such as the very young and elderly.
Influenza A is the main family of viruses behind the flu in humans, with stats from the World Health Organisation (WHO) showing that the flu kills between 250,000 and 500,000 people around the world every year.
Individuals with cold or flu infections can spread contagious viruses before symptoms even begin to manifest. Viruses on their own cannot multiply, and must infect the cells of a living creature in order to reproduce. Confusion can be caused when the term living is used to describe viruses because, in fact, they aren’t actually living entities at all.

You may hear people say “a virus can live on a doorknob for four days” – but Drs at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease say that this isn’t the case. “Maybe you can isolate it and grow it in culture by swabbing a doorknob, but that doesn’t mean that it’s infectious for four days,” one explains.

This is usually what advertisements for cleaning products are referring to when they say flu viruses can survive on surfaces for days on end. An intact virus is necessary for an infection, but this propensity reduces over time as its structures begin to degrade. Once weakened, the virus is less able to attach to cells and spread its genetic material – meaning that it is no longer able to go on and infect further humans.

How long are cold and flu viruses infectious?

In the past 10 years alone, scientists have come leaps and bounds in understanding how long flu viruses retain their infectiousness on common surfaces. In a 1982 study, influenza was found to remain contagious for up to 48 hours on hard plastic or stainless steel, while a 2008 publication decided that these viruses stayed infectious for up to three days on banknotes.
Though in actuality, influenza viruses may actually have a much shorter infectious lifespan then suggested. This is backed by the recent work of virologists at Public Health England. In a 2011 study, a team took two strains of Influenza A and analysed how long they remain infectious on a variety of household surfaces. After only nine hours, viruses with the capability to infect people were no longer found on most non-porous metal and plastic surfaces, such as aluminium and computer keyboards. On more absorbent materials and fabrics, such as soft toys and wooden surfaces, viable viruses disappeared after only four hours.

Although this research is thorough, it is still hard to truly decide on a number – due to the vast array of viruses that can cause infections. In general, most are no longer dangerous after 24 hours, and their ability to infect dissipates faster on porous materials like facial tissues.

What’s the best surface for killing viruses?

In the cases of both flu and cold-causing viruses, infectious particles on our hands are usually gone after 20 minutes, meaning that our skin is one of the most protective surfaces.
Our body’s immune system acts a defensive barrier which does a great job at killing viruses. On top of that, our skin has its own bacteria living on it which doesn’t harbour viruses well – which is good news for us.

Why don’t cold and flu viruses live forever?

The rapid decrease in infectiousness with cold and flu viruses once they’re outside the body is down to three main factors: their structure, environmental conditions, and how much our mucus surrounds it after we sneeze.
Temperature, ultraviolet radiation from sunlight, pH changes and salt can play a role in weakening a virus, but one of the main factors is moisture. If pathogens live in warm, moist environments, like the body, they’re more stable – however, when exposed to a different environment, the structure can break down. This highlights why cold and flu viruses remain infectious on non-porous surfaces, like light switches and counters, longer than porous surfaces such as fabric and tissues. The absorbent composition of these materials means moisture is sucked away from the viruses, causing the structures to collapse.

How best to protect yourself

While many experts agree that viruses do not in fact last long outside of the body, it’s still better to be safe than sorry. Variations in the viruses in question, as well as the surfaces they’ve transferred onto, can mean that it’s better to take precautions rather than run the risk of infecting yourself. Best practice would be to spray surfaces periodically with wipes or other disinfectants, to kill all the germs present.

If you want to learn more about how you can get involved in helping us eradicate the common cold and flu viruses for good, and be compensated for your help, then get in touch today – or head over to What is FluCamp? for more information.

How long do cold and flu viruses stay contagious on public surfaces?

‘Tis the season for gathering with friends and family to share latkes and gingerbread, but also for those dreaded colds and bouts of the flu.

As temperatures drop, both illnesses start to tick up, as does the risk of taking you, your co-workers and loved ones down one-by-one. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate the average person gets two to three colds per year — mostly in the winter and spring. The country as a whole sees 9.3 to 49 million cases of the flu annually.

Before you isolate yourself inside your home and scrub every surface in sight, you should know that these pathogens don’t actually last for days or weeks outside the body, as commercials for some cleaning products might suggest. That’s because cold and flu viruses, despite their ferocity inside our warm bodies, are structurally wimpy and cannot bear the harsh conditions of the dry, outside world.

Here’s what you should know about how long these pesky viruses persist and how you can protect yourself.

What is the cold? What is the flu?

Most colds are caused by rhinoviruses, though other pathogens like coronavirus, parainfluenza and respiratory syncytial virus are sources, too. All can lead to serious complications like bronchitis and pneumonia, especially in individuals with respiratory conditions like asthma, and in those with compromised immune systems.

Influenza A is the main family of viruses behind the flu in humans. The CDC estimates 12,000 to 56,000 American deaths are attributable to the flu each year, while the World Health Organization estimates the virus kills up to 650,000 people worldwide.

Viruses are nonliving pieces of genetic code — DNA or RNA — covered in protein coats known as capsids. Flu viruses and many cold viruses also have a viral envelope, meaning the capsid is covered by two layers of lipids similar to the cell membranes found on organisms.

Individuals with cold or flu infections can spread contagious viruses before symptoms begin. Photo by Subbotina Anna/Adobe Stock

Viruses can’t multiply on their own — they must infect the cells of a living creature. Because they aren’t actually living entities, using terms like “live” or “survive” to describe viruses outside the body can cause confusion, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.

“People say, ‘Well can live on a doorknob for four days,’” Fauci said. “Well, maybe you can isolate it and grow it in culture by swabbing a doorknob, but that doesn’t mean that it’s infectable for four days.”

Viruses outside the body can be better described as either infectious or identifiable — meaning the genetic material that was once inside the virus can be detected via a lab technique like polymerase chain reaction, or PCR. This is usually what advertisements for cleaning products are referring to when they say flu viruses can survive on surfaces for days on end.

Let’s say you had an influenza virus on top of a clean desk, said Dr. Paul Auwaerter, the clinical director for the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

“Five days later, if you take a swab, put it into a molecular machine like a PCR machine and you still find DNA remnants there, that doesn’t mean you have an intact virus,” Auwaerter said. “It just means you’ve found the DNA.”

An intact virus is necessary for an infection, but this propensity reduces over time as its capsid and viral envelope begin to degrade. Once weakened, the virus is less able to attach to cells and spread its genetic material.

There’s not a lot of rigorous data on this question, which is probably why there’s also a lot of confusion.

Prior to this decade, only a handful of studies looked at how long flu viruses retain their infectiousness on common surfaces. A 1982 study found influenza A remained contagious up to 48 hours on hard plastic or stainless steel, while a 2008 publication found these viruses stayed infectious for up to three days on Swiss bank notes.

Influenza viruses may actually have a much shorter infectious lifespan, based on more recent work by virologist Dr. Jane Greatorex at Public Health England. In a 2011 study, her team took two strains of influenza A and analyzed how long they remained infectiousness on a variety of common surfaces. After nine hours, viable viruses were no longer found on most non-porous metal and plastic surfaces, such as aluminum and computer keyboards. On porous items, like soft toys, clothes and wooden surfaces, viable viruses disappeared after four hours.

Most viruses that cause colds and flus remain contagious on non-porous surfaces like computer keyboards longer than porous surfaces like fabric and Kleenex. Photo by strixcode/Adobe Stock

Because common colds are caused by a plethora of viruses, research on surface infectious rates are harder to nail down. In general, most are no longer dangerous after 24 hours, and their ability to infect dissipates faster on porous materials like facial tissues.

What’s the best surface for killing viruses? Our skin. In the cases of both flu and cold-causing viruses, infectious particles on our hands are usually gone after 20 minutes.

Between its pH and its porous nature, our body’s natural barrier to the word does a great job at killing viruses, Greatorex explained. “Our hands are quite antimicrobial themselves,” she said. “They have their own bacteria that live on them — no matter how clean you are — and they don’t actually harbour viruses that well.”

That said, any open wounds on our skin would be an easy gateway for viral infection, so remember to use those bandages.

Cold and flu viruses’ rapid decrease in viability outside the body is thanks to three main factors: their enveloped structure, environmental conditions and how much our mucus surrounds it after a sneeze.

A enveloped virus — like influenza A and most cold-causing viruses — are by nature set up for destruction, Greatorex said. While these enveloped viruses are typically neutralized within 48 hours, a non-enveloped one — like norovirus, an intestinal disease which has caused multiple mass outbreaks on cruise ships — can be viable on surfaces for weeks.

“Anything that disrupts the proteins on the virus surface pretty much kills these enveloped viruses,” Greatorex said. “They are not particularly resistant.”

Temperature, ultraviolet radiation from sunlight, pH changes and salt can play a role in weakening a viral envelope. But one of the main factors is moisture.

“Viruses tend to be more stable in environments for which they’re known to reproduce,” Auwaerter said. “If they live in warm, moist environments — for example, in your nostrils, in your throat, in your bronchial tree — they’re more stable. But when they’re exposed to a different material or to a non-moist environment, they can break down.”

Cold and flu viruses remain viable in moist, warm environments and infect new human hosts when they land in similar places like throats and nasal passageways. Photo by David Jones/PA Images/Getty Images

This is why cold and flu viruses remain infectious on non-porous surfaces like light switches and countertops longer than porous surfaces like fabric and tissues. Porous surfaces suck moisture away from the viruses, causing the structures to collapse.

Not all non-porous surfaces serve as ideal havens for these viruses. Greatorex’s work found flu viruses could remain contagious for nine hours on stainless steel, and other research has suggested they can be infectious on the metal for up to seven days. But on copper surfaces, the virus stops being infectious after six hours.

Mucus from a sneeze can protect a virus from the damaging influences of a dry environment and make the virus maintain infectiousness longer. But on the plus side, Greatorex said, the more mucus a friend or co-worker sneezes, the shorter distance it will travel because of its increased weight and size.

All the same, if someone in your office is ill, tell them to take a sick day. “Just pack ‘em off,” Greatorex said. “Fewer people will get sick if you send them home.”

Because flu viruses don’t often last beyond nine hours, Greatorex’s work suggests public spaces like classrooms, offices and kitchens that are not populated at night will usually free of contagious flu viruses the next morning. But for those who want to be more proactive, Auwaerter recommends sanitizing surfaces periodically with wipes or other chemicals.

“Chlorine, hydrogen peroxide, soaps, detergents or alcohol-based gels all disrupt the capsules of the viruses, and they’re no longer capable of being infectious,” Auwaerter said.

IMAGE PROVIDED BY:
iStockphoto

American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology: “Anaphylaxis Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment and Management;” “Asthma Statistics;” “Prevention of Allergies and Asthma in Children: Tips to Remember;” “Food Allergy: Tips to Remember;” “Global Warming Extends Ragweed Season;” and “Pet Allergy Overview.”

American College of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology: “Billions of Ragweed Pollen Grains Cause Most Seasonal Allergies” and “Spring Allergy Sufferers: Be Wary of Treatment Myths.”

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. “Pet Allergies.”

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: “Oral Allergy Syndrome.”

Current Gastroenterology Reports.

Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

KidsHealth, the Nemours Foundation. “All About Allergies.”

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: “Lactose Intolerance.”

James Sublett, MD, board-certified allergist, Family Allergy and Asthma, Louisville, Kentucky.

University of Maryland Medical Center. “Allergy Reactions-Overview.”

Clinical Therapeutics: “Echinacea in the prevention of induced rhinovirus colds: a meta-analysis.”

UpToDate.com.

Sleep: “Behaviorally Assessed Sleep and Susceptibility to the Common Cold.”

Johns Hopkins Guides.

With cold and flu season in full swing, germs are getting plenty of press. Reports on the potential dangers of antibiotic-resistant superbugs mingle with discussions of the effectiveness of vaccinations and various other medical interventions. While germs may be too small to be seen with the naked eye, encountering them can have a major impact on your health, and these microscopic menaces can lie in wait on a wide array of common surfaces. How long can germs live on surfaces? And what can you do to protect yourself and your health?

How Long Can Germs Live on Surfaces?

When germs are on the prowl, no place is safe. Buses, commuter trains, rental cars, and private vehicles transport both people and virulent germs. Retail establishments, health clubs, educational institutions, restaurants, hotel rooms, and even cruise ship cabins can shelter germs. In fact, practically anything that you touch can expose you to germs, putting your health at risk. According to the National Health Service, the lifespan of a germ varies depending on the type of germ and the surface that it is on. How long can germs live on surfaces? Below we explore a few common examples.

Cold Germs

The common cold is a frequent source of misery. A variety of viruses can trigger it, and like other viruses, cold germs tend to survive for longer periods on hard, nonporous surfaces like desktops and handrails. On suitable indoor surfaces, cold germs can linger for days, but fortunately they rarely remain infectious for more than 24 hours. Cold viruses can also thrive on the skin, but their survival time there is generally measured in mere minutes or hours.

Influenza Germs

Viruses that cause influenza can survive in the air as droplets for hours and live on hard surfaces like phones and keyboards for up to 24 hours. Infectious flu viruses clinging to a tissue can last for about 15 minutes, but viruses on the hands tend to fade quickly. Most will be only a minimal threat after five minutes. It may be a small window of time, but influenza germs don’t warn you of their presence and can make you very sick if you’re unlucky enough to encounter them when they’re infectious.

Norovirus Germs

A highly contagious virus that triggers stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea in those unfortunate enough to catch it, a norovirus can spread through small droplets that travel through the air before settling on surfaces like elevator buttons, table tops, and clothing. While they don’t thrive as successfully on porous materials like tissues and fabrics, noroviruses can survive on hard surfaces for days or weeks if the conditions are favorable.

MRSA Germs

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria, the culprits behind dangerous MRSA infections, are unfazed by many of the antibiotics that are effective in combating other staph infections. Like viruses, these germs tend to survive for shorter periods on porous surfaces than they do on nonporous ones, but they’re capable of living for days or weeks on surfaces if the circumstances are right.

Protecting Yourself from Germs

Everyone has seen it. If you’ve worked in restaurants or other public venues, you may even have wielded it: the dreaded wet, grey rag. Habitually passed over tabletops between customers with a few desultorily swipes, it is an obviously inadequate weapon when it comes to eradicating germs. But what is required to disinfect a surface?

Disinfecting Basics

If you want to kill the germs lurking on a surface, you need to choose an appropriate disinfectant. You also have to apply it properly. That means saturating the surface with enough of the germ-fighting chemical to get the job done and ensuring that there’s enough contact time (time when the chemical is on the surface) to allow it to eliminate any germs present. Choosing a low-grade disinfectant or skimping on either saturation or contact time can compromise your germ-fighting efforts, so it’s vital that you choose your products carefully and read and follow their directions.

Effective Disinfecting with SafeSpace

It’s a simple fact: Surfaces like tabletops, door knobs, bus seats, workout equipment, and steering wheels are likely to be harboring germs. While you can do your best to limit contact, making it through the day without touching anything is impractical. Fortunately, there’s SafeSpace Instant Hand Sanitizer. With an alcohol-free formula that’s safe for people of all ages to use, this powerful, germ-fighting sanitizer is 99 percent effective, so it can eradicate the germs you pick up during your day before they cause illness. Although it’s unquestionably tough on germs, it’s easy on your skin thanks to skin-soothing emollients, so you can use it as necessary without worrying about damaging your hands. And would you like to eliminate germs in your home or business? SafeSpace also offers a Disinfectant Germ Fogger that makes thoroughly disinfecting and deodorizing a space as easy as pushing a button. It can kill 99 percent of the germs responsible for colds, flu, staph, and MRSA by generating 6,000 cubic feet of disinfectant and deodorizing fog.

Still wondering, “How long can germs live on surfaces?” Don’t let this question keep you up at night. Visit SafeSpace Disinfecting Innovations for the quality disinfectants that you need to protect yourself from the hazards posed by germs.

Copyright SafeSpace Company 2018

What Are Germs?

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Our bodies are pretty amazing. Day after day, they work hard — digesting food, pumping blood and oxygen, sending signals from our brains and much more.

But there is a group of tiny invaders that can make our bodies sick — they’re called germs.

Some kids may think that germs are bugs or cooties or other gross stuff. Actually, germs are tiny organisms, or living things, that can cause disease. Germs are so small and sneaky that they creep into our bodies without being noticed. In fact, germs are so tiny that you need to use a microscope to see them. When they get in our bodies, we don’t know what hit us until we have symptoms that say we’ve been attacked!

What Types of Germs Are There?

Germs are found all over the world, in all kinds of places. The four major types of germs are bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa. They can invade plants, animals, and people, and sometimes they can make us sick.

Bacteria (say: BAK-teer-ee-uh) are tiny, one-celled creatures that get nutrients from their environments in order to live. In some cases that environment is a human body. Bacteria can reproduce outside of the body or within the body as they cause infections. Some infections that bacteria can cause include ear infections, sore throats (tonsillitis or strep throat), cavities, and pneumonia (say: new-MO-nyuh).

But not all bacteria are bad. Some bacteria are good for our bodies — they help keep things in balance. Good bacteria live in our intestines and help us use the nutrients in the food we eat and make waste from what’s left over. We couldn’t make the most of a healthy meal without these important helper germs! Some bacteria are also used by scientists in labs to produce medicines and vaccines (say: VAK-seens).

Viruses (say: VY-rus-iz) need to be inside living cells to grow and reproduce. Most viruses can’t survive very long if they’re not inside a living thing like a plant, animal, or person. Whatever a virus lives in is called its host. When viruses get inside people’s bodies, they can spread and make people sick. Viruses cause chickenpox, measles, flu, and many other diseases. Because some viruses can live for a short time on something like a doorknob or countertop, be sure to wash your hands regularly!

Fungi (say: FUN-guy) are multi-celled (made of many cells), plant-like organisms. Unlike other plants, fungi cannot make their own food from soil, water, and air. Instead, fungi get their nutrition from plants, people, and animals. They love to live in damp, warm places, and many fungi are not dangerous in healthy people. An example of something caused by fungi is athlete’s foot, that itchy rash that teens and adults sometimes get between their toes.

Protozoa (say: pro-toh-ZOH-uh) are one-cell organisms that love moisture and often spread diseases through water. Some protozoa cause intestinal infections that lead to diarrhea, nausea, and belly pain.

What Do Germs Do?

Once germs invade our bodies, they snuggle in for a long stay. They gobble up nutrients and energy, and can produce toxins (say: TOK-sinz), which are proteins that act like poisons. Those toxins can cause symptoms of common infections, like fevers, sniffles, rashes, coughing, vomiting, and diarrhea.

How do doctors figure out what germs are doing? They take a closer look. By looking at samples of blood, pee, and other fluids under a microscope or sending these samples to a laboratory for more tests, doctors can tell which germs are living in your body and how they are making you sick.

How Can You Protect Yourself From Germs?

Most germs are spread through the air in sneezes, coughs, or even breaths. Germs can also spread in sweat, saliva, and blood. Some pass from person to person by touching something that is contaminated, like shaking hands with someone who has a cold and then touching your own nose.

Steering clear of the things that can spread germs is the best way to protect yourself. And that means . . .

Hand washing! Remember the words that germs fear — soap and water. Washing your hands well and often is the best way to beat these tiny warriors. Wash your hands every time you cough or sneeze, before you eat or prepare foods, after you use the bathroom, after you touch animals and pets, after you play outside, and after you visit a sick relative or friend.

There is a right way to wash your hands. Use warm water and soap and rub your hands together for at least 15 seconds, which is about how long it takes to sing “Happy Birthday.”

Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze and cover your mouth when you cough to keep from spreading germs. So if you have to cough, it is best to do it in your elbow so you are not contaminating your hands.

Using tissues for your sneezes and sniffles is another great weapon against germs. But don’t just throw tissues on the floor to pick up later. Toss them in the trash and, again, wash your hands!

Another way to fight and prevent infections is to make sure you get all the routine immunizations from your doctor. No one likes to get shots but these help keep your immune system strong and prepared to battle germs. You can also keep your immune system strong and healthy by eating well, exercising regularly, and getting good sleep. All this will help you to be prepared to fight germs that cause illness.

Now that you know the facts about germs, you may still pick up a cough or a cold once in a while, but you’ll be ready to keep most of those invading germs from moving in.

Reviewed by: Ryan J. Brogan, DO Date reviewed: July 2018

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