How Bad Is It to Reuse a Tissue?

When the cold season hits, tissues are inevitable. But will sneezing in your hankie or tissue over and over derail your recovery?

Battling a cold is exhausting: Symptoms like sore throat, cough, congestion, and sneezing can steal your will to get up and go. Still, work beckons so you force yourself to head back in. You swig a glass of possibly immunity-boosting OJ, try some zinc, and head out the door. (Here are some more immunity-boosting tips.)

Unfortunately because you are still exhausted from sleep deprivation and hopped up on cold meds, you forget to snag your box of tissues. As you begin to hack and sneeze en route to work you frantically fish through your bag hoping to find a much needed tissue. Instead, you come across a tissue that appears to have been buried there since last season’s bout with the flu (you seriously need to clean out your bag).

In a state of desperation you use the tissue (and again, and again), then spend the rest of the day at your desk sipping on tea and chicken soup worrying if you possibly could have made yourself sick all over again by reusing that tissue?

Luckily, there’s no need to fret this cold season. Here’s the reassuring truth:

“Some viruses can last on counter tops and other surfaces for more than seven days and used tissues may hold the same risk, says Mia Finkelston, MD, a family physician with LiveHealth Online. “But their ability to cause an infection reduces rapidly and the germs don’t often survive longer than 24 hours.”

In other words, the contagiousness of a virus found in a previously used tissue would decline with time, decreasing the chances of it being strong enough to cause an infection.

Furthermore, thanks to our sophisticated immune systems, we usually aren’t able to become infected with the same virus a second time a cold season rolls around because our bodies created antibodies while fighting off the infection the first time, she explains. So although reusing a tissue may not come with the fear factor of getting sick, it sure does come with the ew factor of just seeming gross.

Medically reviewed by Michael Spertus, MD.

Next, find out what supplements you should be taking during cold and flu season.

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