Flu may be spread by just breathing

Stay home at first sign of illness, doctors advise

(HealthDay News) — In the midst of an especially tough flu season, here’s more bad news: Researchers say it may be possible to spread the virus simply by breathing.

Until now, it was thought that people picked up a flu virus when they touched contaminated surfaces or inhaled droplets in the air ejected by an infected person’s coughs or sneezes.

But the new study finds coughs and sneezes may not be necessary to saturate the air with flu virus.

In the study, researchers analyzed air around the exhaled breath of 142 people with the flu.

“We found that flu cases contaminated the air around them with infectious virus just by breathing, without coughing or sneezing,” said study author Dr. Donald Milton, a professor of environmental health at the University of Maryland.

“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 explained in a university news release. “So when someone is coming down with influenza, they should go home and not remain in the workplace and infect others.”

In fact, nearly half (48 percent) of the airborne samples captured in the air around flu patients who were just breathing — not coughing or sneezing — contained detectable influenza virus, the researchers noted. (…)

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