Your Breath May Spread the Flu

Influenza generates infectious aerosols even when not coughing, especially during the initial days of illness
people meeting in coffee shop, talking

A new research study suggests that keeping surfaces clean, washing hands, and avoiding people who are coughing, does not provide complete protection from getting the flu.

This new information about how the flu is spread reveals that our breath may pass the flu to others 48 percent of the time.

Most healthcare providers believe that people can catch the flu by exposure to droplets from an infected person's coughs or sneezes, as well as, by touching contaminated surfaces.

Dr. Milton, M.D., MPH, professor of environmental health in the University of Maryland School of Public Health and lead researcher of this study said 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.”

“It is important to recognize the common signs and symptoms of the flu which include aching muscles, fever, cough, congestion, and sore throat.  If you start experiencing any of these possible flu symptoms, it is very important that you stay home as much as possible", said Alexandria Duffield, Pharm.D. MTM Clinical Pharmacist, Brookshire Grocery Company.

"Additionally, if you haven’t received your flu shot yet, visit any pharmacy today for the protection needed this flu season," said Duffield.

Dr. Milton and his research team captured and characterized influenza virus in exhaled breath from 142 confirmed cases of people with influenza during natural breathing, prompted speech, spontaneous coughing, and sneezing.

Surprisingly, 48 percent of the fine aerosol samples acquired in the absence of coughing had detectable viral RNA, and several contained infectious virus.

This data suggested that coughing was not necessary for the infectious aerosol generation in the fine droplets.

In addition, the few sneezes observed were not associated with greater viral RNA copy numbers in either coarse or fine aerosols.

This suggests that sneezing does not make an important contribution to influenza virus shedding in aerosols.

Sheryl Ehrman, Don Beall Dean of the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering at San José State University said: "Staying home and out of public spaces could make a difference in the spread of the influenza virus."

“And, get vaccinated -- it is not perfect but does prevent a significant amount of severe illness,” said Dr. Ehrman.

Most pharmacies offer FDA approved flu vaccines.

The flu shot cost varies depending on your insurance and which state you live. The CDC Vaccine Price List provides the private sector vaccine prices for general information.

Flu vaccine discounts can be found here.

Vaccines, like any medicine, can have side effects, says the CDC. You are encouraged to report negative side effects of vaccines to the FDA or CDC.

Learn more about Dr. Milton's Public Health Aerobiology, Virology, and Exhaled Biomarker (PHAB) Laboratory in the University of Maryland School of Public Health: 

Researchers from the University of Maryland, San Jose State University, Missouri Western State University and the University of California, Berkeley contributed to this study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health.