Coughing and Sneezing Not Needed to Spread the Flu

February 6, 2018

Just when you thought it was safe to breathe, a new study from my alma mater, the University of Maryland, finds that it's easier to spread the influenza virus than previously thought. But that doesn't mean you need to be scared into getting a flu shot.

People typically believe that they catch the flu by exposure to droplets from an infected person's coughs or sneezes or by shaking hands or touching contaminated surfaces. But, new information about flu transmission reveals that we may pass the flu to others just by breathing. 

Researchers looked for influenza virus in the exhaled breath from 142 confirmed cases of people with influenza during natural breathing, prompted speech, spontaneous coughing, and sneezing. They collected the specimens on the first three days that the patients had their symptoms. Not surprisingly, the analysis which has recently been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that most flu patients routinely shed large quantities of infectious virus into the air that can pass the flu virus along to those nearby. What was surprising is that the patients often shed the virus even without coughing or sneezing.

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According to Donald K. Milton, M.D., MPH, professor of environmental health in the University of Maryland School of Public Health and lead researcher of this study, "We found that flu cases contaminated the air around them with infectious virus just by breathing, without coughing or sneezing." He went on to explain, "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, what should you do if you get the flu? One good idea is to stay home and rest as soon as you know what's going on! Rest and fluids are often all that's needed to help your body get over the flu. And, as this study shows, going to work is only going to expose others, even if you're not coughing or sneezing. And while you're resting, make sure you take 1,000 mg of vitamin C along with one Zinc Lozenge five times a day.

Yours for better health,






Jing Yan et al. “Infectious virus in exhaled breath of symptomatic seasonal influenza cases from a college community,” bioRxiv(2017); PNAS

“Flu may be spread just by breathing, new study shows; coughing and sneezing not required.” January 18, 2018, University of Maryland.

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