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Turns out you can spread the flu just by breathing

Ah, geez.
It's not just the sneezing and hacking. Just breathing is enough to transmit the flu. Photo: ISTOCK

Surely you've heard the flu going around right now is pretty rough. Maybe you've had it or know someone who has. Across the U.S., it's led to hospitalizations and a few deaths, although, according to the NYTimes, this year’s flu is nothing new or unusual compared to past seasons. The CDC has described it as “moderately severe.” 

To keep from catching or spreading it, it’s common knowledge to wash your hands often and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze (although, be careful holding in your sneeze, you could end up in the hospital). But according to new research from the University of Maryland, these methods might not be enough.

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that you can catch the flu if a sick person breathes on you. So basically, if you’re in the same room as an infected person, you’re at risk. 

"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,” lead researcher Dr. Donald Milton explained in a statement. 

Milton and his team analyzed samples of exhaled breath from 142 University of Maryland college students infected with the flu. In roughly half of the samples, they detected aerosol particles that contained the virus and were small enough for airborne transmission. 

"The study findings suggest that keeping surfaces clean, washing our hands all the time, and avoiding people who are coughing does not provide complete protection from getting the flu," said Sheryl Ehrman, Don Beall Dean of the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering at San José State University. 

The authors hope that this new information could lead to improved ventilation systems in schools, workplaces and on public transit. Until that day comes, if you're sick, stay home, they advise. 

And if you haven’t already gotten your flu shot — even though this year’s vaccine is not as effective a match with the current strain of the virus, doctors still recommend it. It’s not too late to get one, as cases of the flu will continue to spread into the spring.