Flu spreads even easier than you thought, reveals grim study
A snuffly, shambling flu sufferer doesn't need to touch or cough on you to transmit the virus — they could give it to you just by breathing.
That's the outcome of a new study published in the journal PNAS that investigated how the influenza virus spreads through the air.
“We found that flu cases contaminated the air around them with infectious virus just by breathing, without coughing or sneezing,” explained the study's lead researcher Dr Donald Milton, a professor of environmental health at the University of Maryland, in a statement.
“People with flu generate infectious aerosols (tiny droplets that stay suspended in the air for a long time) even when they are not coughing, and especially during the first days of illness," he said.
The researchers rounded up almost 150 people with the flu and analysed the air they exhaled while coughing, sneezing, speaking and breathing normally.
They were surprised to discover how readily flu spreads just by breathing.
“The study findings suggest that keeping surfaces clean, washing our hands all the time, and avoiding people who are coughing does not provide complete protection from getting the flu,” added study co-author Sheryl Ehrman.
The grim result is particularly timely: Australia endured its worst flu season ever in 2017, with more than 200,000 recorded cases (and over 700 deaths), and the so-called "Aussie flu" is rampaging through the UK and the United States this Northern winter.
Milton said the study's finding confirms that, when you're sick, it's on you to isolate yourself — which just means avoiding public places, rather than sealing yourself in an airtight plastic chamber.
"When someone is coming down with influenza, they should go home and not remain in the workplace and infect others," he advised.
The study authors also recommended getting a flu shot: while vaccination isn't a perfect defence, it prevents "a significant amount" of severe illnesses.
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