Published Monday 22 January 2018 at www.medicalnewstoday.com
Fact checked by Honor Whiteman
Just breathing out — without coughing or sneezing — is enough for a person with the flu to spread the virus, according to new research led by the University of Maryland in College Park.
“People with flu,” explains senior author Donald K. Milton, professor of environmental health at the University of Maryland, “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.”
The common belief is that flu is spread through coughs and sneezes from infected individuals and from touching surfaces contaminated with the virus.
However, the new study reveals that people with the flu can shed the infectious virus into the air around them just by breathing.
“So,” Prof. Milton urges, “when someone is coming down with influenza, they should go home and not remain in the workplace and infect others.”
He and his colleagues report their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Seasonal flu varies widely
Flu, or influenza, is an infectious respiratory disease that is caused by viruses. The illness ranges from mild to severe and can lead to hospitalization and even death.
People at higher risk of serious complications from the flu include young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with certain conditions, such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, heart disease, stroke, asthma, and diabetes.
The burden of seasonal flu in the United States varies widely from year to year, depending on which viruses are circulating, when the season starts and finishes, how well the vaccine is working, and how many people have it.
Since 2010, the number of people who have caught flu every year in the U.S. has varied from 9.2 million to 35.6 million; the number hospitalized has ranged from 140,000 to 710,000, and the number who have died has been between 12,000 and 56,000.
The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) advise everyone aged 6 months and older in the U.S. receive a flu shot every year to prevent the spread of seasonal flu.
In the new study, the researchers assessed flu virus in 142 individuals who were confirmed to have influenza. They took samples from each participant during the first 3 days after their symptoms emerged.