Hands often become contaminated with respiratory viruses, either directly or through contact with contaminated surfaces. Spread of such viruses could then occur by touching the nasal mucosa or the conjunctivae. In this quantitative study, we compared the survival of mucin-suspended human parainfluenza virus 3 (HPIV-3) and rhinovirus 14 (RV-14) and the transfer of the viruses to and from the fingers of adult volunteers. When each finger pad was contaminated with 10 microliters of either HPIV-3 (1.3 x 10(5) to 5.5 x 10(5) PFU) or RV-14 (2.1 x 10(4) to 1.1 x 10(5) PFU), less than 1.0% of HPIV-3 and 37.8% of RV-14 remained viable after 1 h; after 3 h, nearly 16% of RV-14 could still be detected, whereas HPIV-3 became undetectable. Tests on the potential spread of viruses from contaminated hands or surfaces were conducted 20 min after contamination of the donor surface by pressing together donor and recipient surfaces for 5 s. Transfer of HPIV-3 from finger to finger or finger to metal disk could not be detected, but 1.5% of infectious HPIV-3 was transferred from disk to finger. Irrespective of the type of donor or recipient surface, 0.7 to 0.9% of RV-14 was transferred. The relatively rapid loss of HPIV-3 infectivity on hands suggests that their role in the direct spread of parainfluenza viruses is limited. However, the findings of this study further reinforce the view that hands can be vehicles for rhinovirus colds. These results also suggest a role for nonporous environmental surfaces in the contamination of hands with respiratory viruses.