During flu season, you probably already know a few key things you should do to try keep the beast at bay: Keep washing your hands, be super careful about sharing snacks or drinks, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and keep surfaces and doorknobs clean. So, how do you catch the flu when you’re religiously doing all of these things? Because, lord knows, regardless of whether or not you’ve gotten your flu shot or cleaned your counters with bleach, waking up with a gnarly cough or a nose simply filled to the brim with snot is all too familiar a reality this time of year. And this is no joke, given that we’re in the midst of one of the worst flu seasons we’ve had in years.
Well, science might have an answer for us as to how the contagions just keep spreading despite our best efforts, and I’m sad to report that this particular culprit for spreading the flu is pretty darn unavoidable: It’s the air we breathe.
That’s right, friends. The Mercury News reports that a new study demonstrates how the flu can be airborne, and the infectious virus is alive, well, and passes in large quantities through the exhaled breath of people infected with the flu. Apparently, the flu can easily be passed on to others just by way of breathing.
The same goes for your least favorite cubical mate, or even that guy on the subway standing just a little too close to you.
In the study, which was conducted during the 2012 to 2013 flu season, researchers gathered nearly 200 volunteers with the flu within three days of the onset of their symptoms. By doing so, the researchers were able to “capture” the flu virus from those who had confirmed cases of it while they talked, breathed, sneezed, and coughed. They then assessed the contagion level of flu aerosols, aka teeny-tiny droplets of the virus that can stay suspended in the air. They also gathered internal samples from the area behind the nose where the flu, well, kind of “lives” in the body.
Specifically, the samples from the sick volunteers’ breath were basically just as bad in severity as the droplets shed in their coughs and sneezes — ew.
According to Mercury News, Dr. Donald Milton, professor of environmental health at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, said in a statement,
He added (and this one we all have get through our heads big time),
That’s right, y’all. You heard the man.
The findings are promising, however, in that the awareness of how the flu spreads can expand our ability to try and keep it from doing so. The researchers also believe that, given these findings, certain kinds of ventilation systems could be developed that might help reduce flu transmission in places like offices, public transport, and schools — you know, places where there’s a whole lot of people and a whole lot of breathing.
But again, friends, don’t let this information keep you from your former vigilance. Please don’t stop covering your mouth, continue to wash your hands, and please, please, please stay in bed if you start coming down with something. Public health truly depends on it!