How can I not catch a cold?
November 14, 2006 8:02 AM   Subscribe

My roommate has a cold. What can I do to increase my chances of not catching it?

My roommate is sick. Lots of coughing and sniffling. We're in college, so we're in a pretty enclosed space (he has his side of the room, and I have mine).

I historically always catch whatever my roommate is sharing, but this time I'd like to avoid the bug if possible. Is there anything I can do to improve my chances of staying cold-free (using lysol/oust liberally, taking vitamin c pills, etc.)?
posted by mikespez to Health & Fitness (34 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Airborne. Start drinking it right now.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:04 AM on November 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Take zinc: Zinc and the common cold
The effect of zinc treatments on the severity or duration of cold symptoms is controversial. A study of over 100 employees of the Cleveland Clinic indicated that zinc lozenges decreased the duration of colds by one-half, although no differences were seen in how long fevers lasted or the level of muscle aches (31). Other researchers examined the effect of zinc supplements on cold duration and severity in over 400 randomized subjects. In their first study, a virus was used to induce cold symptoms. The duration of illness was significantly lower in the group receiving zinc gluconate lozenges (providing 13.3 mg zinc) but not in the group receiving zinc acetate lozenges (providing 5 or 11.5 mg zinc). None of the zinc preparations affected the severity of cold symptoms in the first 3 days of treatment. In the second study, which examined the effects of zinc supplements on duration and severity of natural colds, no differences were seen between individuals receiving zinc and those receiving a placebo (sugar pill) (32). Recent research suggests that the effect of zinc may be influenced by the ability of the specific supplement formula to deliver zinc ions to the oral mucosa (32). Additional research is needed to determine whether zinc compounds have any effect on the common cold.

Where I used to work, there were zinc suppliments in the first aid kit mounted to the wall in the cafeteria; so they might be easy to find near you.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 8:04 AM on November 14, 2006

posted by uncballzer at 8:05 AM on November 14, 2006

Take a vitamin C regularly, like every few hours. Drink lots of fluids. Wash your hands a lot and don't touch your face (eyes, nose) if you can help it.
posted by paleography at 8:06 AM on November 14, 2006

Wash your hands all the time, but especially before eating or touching your face. Speaking of, don't touch your face. Get a bottle of Purell to "wash" your hands when you're in your dorm room. Wripe down common surfaces with a disinfectant (Purell wipes? antibacterial baby wipes?), especially the phone.

Verdict's out on the usefullness of vitamin C, but it can't hurt. Make sure you get enough sleep and eat well to help your body fight off the germs.
posted by robinpME at 8:07 AM on November 14, 2006

I had a habit of catching my roommate's colds too. The last time he had a particularly nasty 5-day bout with one, I started to notice that I was catching it too. I did the following, and my cold was very mild and lasted only a day.

1) Ate lots of garlic
2) Took zinc and vitamin c
3) Took Cold-FX

I'm not sure which of the above worked, but the Cold-FX was the newest item in my bag of tricks. The next time I get a cold, or feel one coming on, I'm going to give just Cold-FX a try and see if it was the miracle cure I was after.
posted by backwards guitar at 8:14 AM on November 14, 2006

The biggest thing is to be aware of common surfaces that you touch and wash hands after touching those. Doorknobs are probably the biggest thing to worry about. If you want to be super paranoid, wear gloves when touching doorknobs or other commonly touched items like remotes, light switch, fridge, etc. The easiest way to transmit a cold is by touching a germy doorknob and then picking your teeth or rubbing your eyes.
posted by JJ86 at 8:21 AM on November 14, 2006

Zinc is good, but Zicam (topical zinc in the nose) is even better. (Although I've often wondered if you could get the same effect more cheaply with bacitracin.)

(If you do take zinc pills, don't go overboard, and don't take them on an empty stomach. If you do, you may wish you had a cold instead.)

And yes, hand washing, hand washing, hand washing.
posted by j-dawg at 8:22 AM on November 14, 2006

Get him to stop sneezing or coughing into his bare hands if you can: you're way less likely to get sick from an airborne sneeze than from germs > hands > doorknob > hands. (And into the shoulder or elbow crook is better than airborne, but even that is better than hands.)
posted by dame at 8:22 AM on November 14, 2006

I second using Airborne and vitamin C, but be careful about zinc products; they interact negatively with people who have allergies. Be sure to read the packaging.

Another suggestion people often make is to try taking Echinacea supplements - you could look into that as well.

Try to spend as little time in your room as possible - study in the library instead of in your room.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 8:22 AM on November 14, 2006

Zinc has not been at all proven to be an effective prophalactic for the common cold.

The case for Vitamin C even looks . Ugh. I broke it. Admin hope me?
posted by
jammer at 8:33 AM on November 14, 2006

Here, my post, unmunged:

Zinc has not been at all proven to be an effective prophalactic for the common cold.

The case for Vitamin C even looks questionable.

You can not read those, take what you think will help you, and hope for a nice bump from the placebo effect.

Or you can practice good sanitary habits, wash your hands regularly, avoid breathing air that has been recently sneezed or coughed into, expect that the sick person be respectful of your close quarters and your desire not to catch the disease, and hope for the best.

In the long run, a good healthy lifestyle leading to a strong immune system is the only sure way to increase your resistance to illness.
posted by jammer at 8:35 AM on November 14, 2006

I agree much more with Sprout's advice to get out as much as possible rather than the rest of the glove/Purell/donttouchanything paranoia espoused here. Unless your roommate is unhygenic and wiping his snot on the knobs, or you're snuggling up with him, the benefits of endless washing and gloves are incremental compared to the larger environmental issue of sharing an enclosed space with this guy.

Another vote for Airborne, too. I also take a supplement called "Wellness Formula" when my fiancee gets sick- don't recall the brand, but that's the specific name of the product.
posted by mkultra at 8:35 AM on November 14, 2006

handwashing handwashing handwashing. And get enough sleep.

And I'm a big believer in the placebo effect, so by all means take supplements as well.
posted by gaspode at 8:38 AM on November 14, 2006

The Zicam nasal spray has been linked to a loss of smell (anosmia), which would pretty much suck ass given the connections between smell & taste. I am not personally aware of other forms of Zicam having this side-effect; just the nasal spray.

Nevertheless, it might be something to consider.
posted by aramaic at 8:44 AM on November 14, 2006

1. Wear a simple facemask (sugical mask) and goggles when in the house. Presenting a physical barrier to any infectious splatter will help more than anything else. Plus, this keeps you from touching your face absentmindedly.

2. Wash your hands constantly, to protect yourself from any face-touching that does occur.

3. Personal anecdote: I feel that sleeping a lot and eating constantly (at 150-200% of normal daily caloric intake) greatly helps me ward off colds in the "I think one is coming on" stage, and helps clear colds that have already established themselves. I certainly am at greater risk of getting a cold if I haven't been sleeping and eating well.
posted by rxrfrx at 8:55 AM on November 14, 2006

Respiratory viruses are heat-sensitive. Turn up your thermostat to make the air hot and dry.

And re-ditto frequent handwashing.
posted by anadem at 9:08 AM on November 14, 2006

Yes to the hand washing but as an addendum to that, be sure you're also moisturizing your hands. If you're washing your hands a ton, they'll get really dry, and dry, cracked skin is a perfect entry point for germs. Sounds kinda paranoid, I know, but it was advice that I once got from a nurse and seems to help me.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:13 AM on November 14, 2006

I found the advice in this thread helpful, especially garlic and the hairdryer trick.
posted by paduasoy at 9:20 AM on November 14, 2006

The Zicam nasal spray has been linked to a loss of smell (anosmia), which would pretty much suck ass given the connections between smell & taste. I am not personally aware of other forms of Zicam having this side-effect; just the nasal spray.

Nevertheless, it might be something to consider.

this is dicey--the researcher releasing this info was involved in some zicam stock shorting scam, and the study looked really flawed.
posted by mecran01 at 9:43 AM on November 14, 2006

No drugs or vitamins or garlic or anything else you can take will help. (Garlic discourages kissing, but that's about it.) The trick is to avoid physically transferring the roommate's snot to your hands and then to your mouth, nose, or eyes. Any way you can do that is a thousand times better than gobbling zinc or whatever the latest fad is.

But it's hard to do because the germs are persistent on surfaces you and your roommate both touch. Read this. What he touched yesterday can give you a cold today. You have to wash yourself and wash the common surfaces and he has to cooperate by washing his hands frequently and not sneezing on stuff.
posted by pracowity at 9:45 AM on November 14, 2006

I concur with wash your hands often and get enough sleep (to give your immune system a fighting chance). As for zinc, I read an interesting study last year (can't remember where now) that suggested that zinc only works when absorbed through the mucus membranes in your mouth, nose and throat. It seems to bind with and virus and inhibit it somehow. What that means is that zinc lozenges or swabs and sprays (like Zicam) may work, but supplements certainly won't since the effect does not appear to by systemic.

I've had some luck with Zicam (the throat spray) in terms of shortening colds, but it tastes wildly bad. I dreaded my 5 x daily spray almost more than I dreaded getting a cold. Everything I've read about garlic and C seems to be placebo all the way, so I probably wouldn't bother, although a multivitamin might be a good idea (immune system a fighting chance and all).
posted by mostlymartha at 10:28 AM on November 14, 2006

When I have had a roommate in the past get sick (and mine is starting to get sick right now) I have tried to do the following and it has always helped.

I drink lots of OJ. This gives me ample Vitamin C and plenty of fluids.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Try to limit alcohol and sugar consumption, your immune system will be lowered.
Depending on where you are in the Country, I would open a window to get fresh air in. If not, I would go for plenty of walks to the library or hang out at a friends place.
Live in a clean environment and wash your hands.
Don’t leave your clothes and other crap all over the place. Wash your sheets and wear clean clothes. Make your bed!
Encourage your roommate to throw their tissues into a plastic bag.
Clorox wipes are good to wipe down any common areas.
If you have a girlfriend, I would ask stay at her place.

A good way to prevent from getting sick I found is to get plenty of exercise. I never used to get sick in High School when I was an athlete, but then went to college and decided to become and all dorm drinker, I have gotten sick easier. Most importantly, be open with your roommate that you don’t want to get sick. This may help guilt trip them a bit. Also, if you get sick, his likeliness of getting sick again is increased. Good luck
posted by thetenthstory at 10:30 AM on November 14, 2006

Hand-washing really does help.

Here's another idea - keep the humidity up in your dorm room. This has the lovely side effect of probably making your roommate more comfortable, and will help keep your sinuses in good shape too. I'm not 100% sure it will help prevent the transmission of the cold virus, but why not? It's a nice thing to do. Just hang a couple of very damp towels up & re-moisten them occasionally.

Get enough rest and eat well, to keep your own immune system functioning well. Also, if you are in a dorm room, this could easily translate into both of you getting enough rest.
posted by amtho at 11:34 AM on November 14, 2006

get in the habit of rarely touching your face especially your eyes and nose. You won't believe how many times you touch your face in a day. I firmly believe that those who touch their face often are the people who contract the most colds. Wash hands regularly during the cold and flu season and I know it hasn't been proven but I took 1000 mg of Vitamin C every day for 3 years and never got a cold, then I stopped for about 3 years and the 2nd or 3rd year I got about 4 colds per season. I then went back on the Vitamin C, it's been a year and a half and I've had only one cold. I think the Vitamin C thing is hard to prove because there is no scientifically direct effect but I think of it as the same as wearing warm clothes in cold weather - does the cold give you a virus? No. But does the cold weather make your body weaker and therefore a better candidate for a virus? I believe so.
posted by any major dude at 11:37 AM on November 14, 2006

One thing I do is get saline nasal spray (sold near the kind with the decongestants) and spray a couple of shots in each nostril if I start to feel a cold coming on-or even if I am in a dry heated environment. So far it works really well.

I have also heard a lot of people at the gym rave about Airborne. Apparently you can get it at Walmart.
posted by konolia at 11:53 AM on November 14, 2006

I hate to be a wet blanket (sorry, TPS et al), but I feel I should provide some input on Airborne. This fellow has some things to say about it. He even references the recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine on echinacea, one of the "naturopathic" ingedients. See also NCAHF, Wikipedia.
DISCLAIMER: I used to swear by echinacea. But looking back, I realize any effects were a product of wishful thinking, confirmation bias &/or placebo.

My $.02... Wash hands, limit contact with the roomie, and use anti-bacterial wipes on things like doorknobs, phone, computer keyboard (germier than your toilet!). And the "eat well, get plenty of rest, exercise" advice is good for any time.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 11:57 AM on November 14, 2006

Wear a H.E.V. suit.
posted by oxford blue at 2:27 PM on November 14, 2006

Be happy!

"The people who report positive emotions are less likely to catch colds and also less likely to report symptoms when they do get sick. This held true regardless of their levels of optimism, extraversion, purpose and self-esteem, and of their age, race, gender, education, body mass or prestudy immunity to the virus."
posted by martinrebas at 2:41 PM on November 14, 2006

The easiest way to avoid catching something from your roommate is to cure your roommate. Get out your hair dryer, and hand it to your roommate with a copy of this and this.
posted by paulsc at 3:29 PM on November 14, 2006

Anecdote, plus non-anecdotal chemistry:

I live in a developing country and I'm a teacher - so hundreds of possibly very sick kids and teens are in very close quarters with me every day.

I wash my hands after each class (it started because I wasn't hot on the whiteboard marker ink tattoo jobs I was ending up with) and have trained myself to not touch my face.

I've been here for eight months and have yet to get a cold, while all of my colleagues have been just a whole lot less lucky; I'll spare you the gruesome, pus-filled details.

Hand washing doesn't need to be under super-hot water or with antibacterial soap; the Wikipedia entry on soap says:

Soaps are useful for cleansing because soap molecules attach readily to both nonpolar molecules (such as grease or oil) and polar molecules (such as water). Although grease will normally adhere to skin or clothing, the soap molecules can attach to it as a "handle" and make it easier to rinse away.

I imagine, though I couldn't be sure, that any sort of grease or oil (or, really, anything that didn't come from your body in the first place) is probably a Sizzler-style buffet for pathogens set on your destruction - and that's why soap is so useful: it helps all that micro-gunk fly off your body when you shower or wash your hands.

To review:
- Wash your hands
- Stop touching your face
- Thank your nearest bar of soap for being so awesome
posted by mdonley at 5:56 AM on November 15, 2006

Hand washing doesn't need to be under super-hot water or with antibacterial soap

That's a good reminder.

Warm water is often recommended for handwashing, not because it kills germs, but only because it helps to loosen the grease or oil that holds the germs you want to wash away. You can probably do a good job with soap and cold water, though warmer water will help to liquify accumulated gunk.

And you don't have to kill anything, just to get it off you and down the drain. Save the horrible germ-killing skin-destroying stuff for inanimate surfaces you want to clean.
posted by pracowity at 7:12 AM on November 15, 2006

I don't know if this has been covered already, but the easiest entry point for viruses is through the mucus membranes in your eyes, since unlike your other facial orifices they have no hair, minimal mucus, no digestive enzymes, and no stomach acid. So, in addition to washing your hands and not touching your face: DO NOT RUB YOUR EYES!
posted by stemlot at 12:23 PM on November 17, 2006

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