Health: Common colds that begin on the hands

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The Independent Online
If you should meet a consultant chest physician and sniffle in his presence, he will be unlikely to greet you with a handshake. It is not coughs and sneezes that spread diseases but hands.

The commonest way of catching a cold from an infected person is by shaking hands with them and later rubbing your eyes. This is a more reliable way of transmitting the virus than breathing near them or even kissing them.

A guide to facts and fiction about colds and flu was published yesterday by the Consumer Health Information Centre, set up to improve understanding of common ailments by the Proprietary Association of Great Britain which represents pharmacists.

Advised by doctors, nurses and patients' representatives, the centre launched a campaign to beat the bugs that cause the loss of 150 million working days a year.

The guide dismisses the widely held belief that sitting in a draught or getting caught in the rain can bring on a cold. However, working in a modern, air-conditioned building where there are no natural draughts may increase the risk. Studies of US servicemen living in old, draughty huts had only half as many colds as their counterparts in new quarters.

The average cold lasts from four to 14 days - longer if your body was at a low ebb when it started. Antibiotics are useless because they act only against bacteria and colds are caused by viruses.

The tradition of feeding chicken soup to cold sufferers, which dates back to the 13th century, has no scientific foundation beyond the comforting effects of the warm drink. In 1978 a doctor in Florida tested the soup's effects and found it let patients breathe more easily. "The improvements, however, did not last for long. Any steaming hot drink probably has similar effects," the guide says.

A survey showed eight out of 10 people agreed it was important to treat themselves when they got a cold or flu, but 60 per cent said they had seen a family doctor over a minor problem in the last year. The centre's helpline, staffed by pharmacists,is 0845 6061611.