ZocdocAnswersCan you get a disease from touching objects?

Question

Can you get a disease from touching objects?

My friend had the flu and then she used my computer. Then I used the computer. Can I get the flu from that? Can you get a disease if you touch an object that a person with a disease touched?

Answer

Sorry to hear that you friend came down with the flu, and that you are worried you may get it from using the computer after she did. You ask a very good question about getting sick by coming into contact with objects, and I unfortunately have bad news...you can most definitely get sick from coming into contact with objects that someone who is ill came into contact with. Actually this is one of the more common ways in which sickness is passed from person to person. There was a big hand washing initiative in hospitals that started relatively recently for this very reason. This isn't a universal truth, but if a sick person sneezes or coughs, and doesn't wash his or her hands, then shakes hands with you or touches something before you do, then it is possible to get sick. This is of course if you don't wash your hands before touching one of your own mucous membranes (mouth, etc). So in that situation, if either the sick person, or yourself (in my example) had washed your hands, then it would have significantly decreased the rate of passing on the infection. As you well know there are many different types of "germs" or infections agents. Two main categories that most people are aware of are bacteria and viruses. Viruses are not actually living organisms and require infecting a living organism and "hijacking" its own DNA replication mechanisms to multiply. This means that outside of a living organism they cannot multiply, but it also can mean that for some viruses, they can sit for quite some time before they "degrade" enough so that they can no longer infect someone. On the other hand bacteria are able to multiply on their own if they have a food source, but that means if they are out of the organism they were infecting for a while, then they die. There are of course exceptions to these general rules, but it kind of gets the point across that it is very important to wash your hands frequently if you are sick (to help prevent the spread of illness), or if you are around sick people (to help prevent getting sick). I recommend making an appointment with your primary care physician to discuss routine (i.e. influenza) vaccines, and help you take proper precautions. Best of luck, and stay healthy!

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