It has long been thought of that the flu virus has been spread by droplets but recent research shows that the flu virus may be airborne. What does it mean for the flu virus to be airborne and how can you still reduce your risk of getting the flu?

Is The Flu Airborne?

The flu is a common virus across much of the world. During the winter months, the flu virus increases in transmission rates. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of the flu include, fevers, general body aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, congestion, and headaches. Sounds fun, right? Most of us have probably had a confirmed case of the flu at least once in our life.

Droplets vs Airborne?

The flu virus is thought to spread through droplets from body moisture (sneezes, coughing, spit, etc,.). As a general rule of thumb, if someone coughs or sneezes, droplets from that cough or sneeze can be inhaled by another person and that person could in turn, contract the flu. Droplets could also land on surfaces that another person could touch with their hands. If their hands contact an open area on their body (mouth, eyes, nose), the person could then contract the flu virus that way.

Recent Research Suggests The Flu Is Airborne

For quite some time, the flu virus was understood to be spread by droplets, as mentioned above. As a general rule of thumb, droplets containing flu virus particles from a sneeze or cough are heavy enough that they won’t travel more than six feet. It’s also thought that droplet particles don’t linger in the air for a prolonged period of time.

Recent research however suggests that the flu virus may be airborne and not droplet. Airborne particles linger in the air far longer and can increase the spread of illness far greater than droplets ever can. Some common diseases that are spread airborne are: tuberculosis, chicken pox, measles, and anthrax.

A study looked at people with 156 confirmed cases of the flu. The study looked at airborne transmission of the flu. Researchers found that flu particles were prevalent in the air for at least thirty minutes after an infected person was in the room. Even worse – the flu virus was present in the air even forty-eight percent of the time when no coughs or sneezes were present. This suggests that the flu virus could be spread simply by breathing.

Sneezes were less likely to generate airborne transmission as opposed to coughs. The reason being, sneezes make larger droplet particles which fall to the surface quicker.

Flu Virus Being Airborne: What This Means For You

So, what does this mean if the flu virus is airborne as opposed to droplets. Well, to put it simply, it makes it more difficult to avoid getting sick. If someone has the flu, being stuck inside an office, home, or school room will greatly increase the chances of you catching the flu. Dry, cold winters can also increase the spread of the flu as the virus lasts longer in those types of conditions.

Still, there are several simple things you can do to avoid getting sick: wash your hands with hot soap and water frequently, if you’re sick – stay home, and cough or sneeze into your arm. Honestly, it may also benefit you to wear a surgical mask around others who are sick as well. But there are social stigmas attached to wearing a surgical mask.


1. Yan, J. Et. Al. “Infectious Virus In Exhaled Breath Of Symptomatic Seasonal Influenza Cases From A College Community.” Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences Of The United States Of America. 19 September 2017. Web. 2 February 2018.


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