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.

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