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Stay ahead of the cold & flu this season. Before you leave the house check in with our cold & flu tracker. Enter a zip code and keep an eye on cold and flu outbreaks in your area and around the country.


What's the difference between a Cold and the Flu? Between the Swine Flu and Bird Flu? Who's at greatest risk for the Flu? Protecting your family from the germs that cause colds and the flu is easier than you might think. We're glad you asked. Find all this and more.

About Cold and Flu Germs

A "germ" is a microscopic living organism. Most germs can be helpful ... but some of these microorganisms can cause disease.

By understanding germs and how they are spread, you can protect yourself and those around you from cold and flu. Cold and flu viruses are spread easily from person to person in a variety of ways:

  • Direct contact - like shaking hands with someone who has the flu
  • Indirect contact - like touching a dirty tissue used by someone with a cold, or a surface that has been touched by someone who is sick
  • Through the air - like when one child sneezes on another
  • Through contaminated food and water
  • Some germs are spread through contact with animals or by a bite or scratch.

Cold & Flu Germs: Viruses versus Bacteria

"Bacteria" are germs that get nutrients from their environment — and they can live virtually anywhere. Bacteria are found inside humans, on surfaces, in water, or in almost any place you can think of. Although some can make a person very sick, most bacteria are harmless to humans.

  • Some bacteria cause bacterial infections such as strep throat and ear infections. They can be treated with antibiotics prescribed by a doctor.

"Viruses," on the other hand, must be inside a living thing (like a human or animal) in order to survive and reproduce — but they can survive on surfaces and be spread to someone who touches that surface. Unlike bacteria or mold/mildew, which are capable of growing on their own, viruses need a host to infect in order to reproduce. It is through this process that viruses cause disease.

  • Viruses cause the flu and the common cold. Antibiotic medicine can't cure viral infections, although a healthcare provider may prescribe antiviral medicine for severe cases of the flu or to prevent flu-related medical problems.
  • The flu virus is extremely hardy — in fact, it can live on contaminated surfaces for up to 48 hours.

Learn more about germs in Germs 101.

Importance of Controlling the Spread of Cold and Flu Germs at Home

Cold and flu are powerful viruses that are spread easily between people. It's important to do everything you can to prevent the spread of germs so that you — and your family -- don't get sick. Flu can also cause mild to severe complications, especially for at-risk groups like young children and the elderly.

The good news is that prevention of cold and flu is relatively easy. It begins with basic good practices like:

  • Getting a flu vaccine
  • Remembering frequent handwashing
  • Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces

Controlling Germs on Surfaces