How Germs Spread Through Droplet Transmission

Germs are spread in many ways. We leave them behind when we touch things, send them into the environment when we cough or sneeze and even spread them when we breathe. Each of these is a different way that germs can be spread.

How It Works

Droplet transmission occurs when oral or nasal secretions infected with an illness enter the eyes, nose or mouth of another person. The secretions are most commonly passed through coughing or sneezing; this is the way the flu and many viruses are spread.

Many people mistakenly believe that respiratory illnesses like the cold and flu are airborne, that they spread through the air, but they are actually spread by droplets. The viruses live in saliva and mucus and when you cough or sneeze, those droplets can be spread as far as 6 feet away from you. If they land on another person who then touches their eyes, mouth or nose, they could get the virus as well. 

Cold and flu viruses can live outside of the body for several hours as well. So if you cough or sneeze and the droplets land on a surface that is later touched by someone else, they could be infected that way as well.

What Can You Do?

The best way to prevent the spread of illnesses is good hand hygiene. Wash your hands frequently, use hand sanitizer when you don't have soap and water available and try not to touch your face, eyes, and nose.

If you have to cough or sneeze, do it into a tissue or your elbow, so you don't spread your germs as far and you don't get them all over your hands.

If you are sick, it is important to try to stay away from people as much as possible so you won't make others sick as well. Be especially mindful of those that are at high risk for complications from the cold or flu, like babies and young children, older adults and people with chronic health conditions. Although your cold might make you feel bad for a few days, it could be serious or even life-threatening for someone else. 

When you are sick, clean the surfaces you touch as much as possible. Once you are feeling better, make sure you thoroughly clean everything that you have touched. Remote controls, cell phones, doorknobs, faucets and light switches are all surfaces that are touched frequently but not cleaned often. Take whatever steps you can to keep those around you healthy even when you are sick. If you don't have enough energy to clean, ask someone else to do it for you. You'll all be better off if you do.

Was this page helpful?