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Here’s a question we received recently: “How long do germs stay contagious once they’re outside the body?” It’s an interesting question and today we’re going to try to answer it. So, in this post, we’ll talk about how long different pathogens – including the flu virus, the cold virus and stomach bugs – can survive for once they’re on surfaces. We’ll also discuss what you can do to reduce your risk of infection.

The flu virus

The flu virus can’t last very long outside the human body; it usually dies after a few hours. However, if there’s a flu outbreak in your office, then be careful about touching other peoples’ keyboards, computer mice and desks. This is because the flu virus can last for up to 24 hours on hard, plastic surfaces. That’s why it’s also a good idea to clean your own desk regularly.

Surprisingly though, you don’t need to be too worried about other people’s tissues. This is because the flu virus can survive in tissues for only 15 minutes, after which it’s no longer a threat. So if you see an old tissue lying around, don’t be afraid to pick it up and toss it in the bin.

The cold virus

The cold virus is hardier than the flu virus because it can survive for up to a week outside the human body. However, after 24 hours, it begins to lose its ability to infect people, rendering it harmless.

Again though, be careful around hard surfaces that are touched often, such as door handles and the buttons on the microwave. Like the flu virus, the cold virus survives for longer on hard surfaces than soft surfaces. This can turn communal objects, like the office kettle, into a hotbed of bacterial activity.

You should also be wary about shaking hands with someone who has a cold. This is because some cold viruses can survive on hands for over an hour. This also means that if you have a cold yourself, then you should do everyone else a favour and sneeze into a tissue and not your hand!

Stomach bugs

Many different bacteria and viruses that can cause stomach problems, and the amount of time they can survive outside of the human body ranges from anywhere between one hour and several months. Salmonella and Campylobacter, for example, can only survive for 1 to 4 hours outside the body. C. difficile, on the other hand, can survive for up to five months on hard surfaces.

Stomach bugs are transmitted via small droplets that settle on surfaces. For this reason, it’s important to wash your hands every time you go to the toilet and to have your office cleaned regularly. Most stomach bugs can be removed with simple soap and water, so there’s really no excuse for spreading stomach illness to your colleagues.


The herpes virus causes cold sores (which are small fluid-filled blisters that form around the mouth). If you have a cold sore, then try not to touch it because the virus can last for up to 2 hours on your hands. Most pharmacists sell special cream for cold sores that can help to kill the virus.


It’s not always possible to prevent infection but there are always measures you can take to reduce the risk. These measures include washing your hands after using the toilet, sneezing into a tissue and keeping your office and home clean.

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