By Heather Brown

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — If haven’t already had a sore throat, runny nose and watery eyes this season, chances are it’s coming up. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the average American adult gets two to three colds per year. Kids can get them 8 to 10 times.

So, how do you catch a cold? Good Question.

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Researchers at MIT zoomed in and slowed down video of a sneeze to demonstrate just how far it could travel.

“When you cough or sneeze, you see the droplets, or feel them if someone sneezes on you,” says John Bush, a professor of applied mathematics at MIT. “But you don’t see the cloud, the invisible gas phase. The influence of this gas cloud is to extend the range of the individual droplets, particularly the small ones.”

Previous studies have shown secretions from sneezes can be propelled as far as 20 feet or more.

Dr. Mark Schleiss, head of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Minnesota Medical School and Children’s Masonic Hospital, says people can catch colds through secretions in the air, but that’s not the most common way to get the virus.

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“It’s more likely that you’re going to get it because some of that material gets on your hands during that sneeze and you forget to wash your hands and you touch your nose or your eye,” Dr. Schleiss says.

Common cold viruses can last a couple of hours outside the body. Often times, people touch things like door handles, keyboards, grocery carts that carry the virus and then touch the inside of their eyes or nose.

“People don’t realize throughout the day how often they put their finger in their nose,” Dr. Schleiss says. “It sounds sort of disgusting, but it’s true. Everyone does it.”

He says people should either cover their mouth or sneeze into their elbow, but always wash their hands after sneezing or coming into contact with someone else who is showing cold symptoms.

“Either way is fine,” he says. “If you sneeze into your elbow, you may forget there are secretions there that are infectious. If you sneeze into your hands and then wash your hands, that’s probably the perfect solution.”

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And, as for why we aren’t sick all the time given so much exposure to cold viruses, much of it has to do with the number of rhinoviruses that exist. There are more than 100 strains of rhinovirus or common cold. Once you get one of those strains once, you’re immune and you don’t get that strain again.

Heather Brown