It’s True—You Can Catch the Flu Just by Breathing

A new study reveals that influenza is in the air—literally in the air all around you. Here's how to protect yourself.

healthcare, medicine, flu and treatment concept - cup of tea, paper wipes and thermometer with pillsSyda Productions/ShutterstockA sneeze. Contaminated doorknobs. Coughing. That’s how flu germs are spread, right? Yes, but now it turns out that even if you’re fastidious about washing your hands and avoiding coughers and sneezers, you can still be exposed. A new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals you can catch the flu simply by breathing.

After recruiting 142 flu patients, researchers at the University of Maryland analyzed the air around the volunteers for the next three days. They discovered that 48 percent of the samples contained enough virus to infect another person—no coughing required.

“We found that flu cases contaminated the air around them with infectious virus just by breathing, without coughing or sneezing,” explained lead researcher Donald Milton, MD, MPH, professor of environmental health at the University of Maryland School of Public Health in a press release. “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. So when someone is coming down with influenza, they should go home and not remain in the workplace and infect others.”

What can you do? First, make sure you know the six signs that you might be coming down with something. And get a flu vaccination: It might not be perfect, but it is the best proven protection against those sneaky virus particles floating in the air. Finally, show this to your coworkers and remind them it’s their duty to take time off when they’re sick!

Popular Videos