What really spreads the flu?
Each winter just one sneeze alone can blast thousands of microscopic influenza virus droplets into the air.
Everyone has a theory on how to avoid catching the flu. Some hold their breath when someone sneezes. Others spray disinfectant aerosol. But are these tactics in line with how the virus is really spread?
“The main way the flu is passed from on another is through the air,” Doctor Kin Lee said. “Secretions containing the virus escape from the nose and mouth in the form of snot, saliva and droplets.
When an infected person sneezes, talks, or whispers, or even breathes, they propel virus-laden droplets into the air. Larger droplets can fall out of the air within one metre of the infected person and land on surfaces or other people.
“Smaller virus laden droplets can hang in a cloud for quite some time, which means other people can inhale them in without getting close to an infected person ” Doctor Lee said.
Someone with the virus on their hands can touch a surface like a door knob or shopping trolley and transfer the virus that way.
“Not only can the flu virus survive in the air for some time, it can also stay active on surfaces,” Doctor Lee said.
The debate is, are you more likely to catch the flu from touching something infected or from inhaling particles in the air?
Specialists working for the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Influenza believe it is a result of touching infected surfaces and breathing in virus laden particles.
This in part explains why the flu can spread between children like wild fire.
“Children are very expressive and liberal with their secretions,” Doctor Lee said.
Protect yourself by keeping your distance from those with colds and flu-like symptoms and practice cough and cold etiquette. Sneeze into your elbow so you don’t leave clouds of virus particles in the air and wash your hands regularly. If you’re in a doctors waiting room ask for a mask.
“If someone sneezes over you, hold your breath until you can walk clear of their sneeze cloud,” Doctor Lee laughed.
The Australian Government recommends everyone from six months old should immunise themselves against the flu.