Can You Catch the Flu through the Air?

The following was a question sent in to Marilyn Vos Savant of Parade Magazine:

Odvar Holm of Carlsbad, California, writes:
Marilyn: If someone with a cigarette is walking 10 to 15 feet ahead of me, I can smell the smoke. But say the person has the flu instead. Can I catch it from the breath he or she is exhaling?

Marilyn responds:
Cigarette smoke lingers in the air, so you can easily smell it as you walk in the wake of a smoker, even outdoors. But influenza viruses are spread primarily with large-particle droplets that don’t remain suspended in the air. They travel only a few feet and then settle. You would have to be walking close behind a person who coughs or sneezes to catch a virus he or she is carrying.

Small-particle transmission (via the residue of evaporated droplets) may be possible because these particles might remain airborne, but data on this is limited.

Comments (4)

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  1. Angel says:

    It looks like this is an area where more research would be necessary. However,I would opt for being cautious about being near a person carrying the flu, and by near I mean 20 feet or closer.

  2. Studebaker says:

    To contract most contagious diseases, you must be exposed to sufficient amount of active biological material. Just inhaling a virus or two isn’t enough.

  3. A.D. says:

    That’s good to know that you cant catch the flu from cigarette smoke.

  4. Gabriel Odom says:

    A.D. hahahahaha

    I counter the genius with actual science:
    “The importance of aerosol transmission is illustrated by an outbreak of influenza aboard a commercial aeroplane in the late 1970s. The plane, carrying 54 persons, was delayed on the ground for three hours, during which time the ventilation system was not functional. Most of the travellers remained on board. Within 72 hours, nearly 75% of the passengers developed influenza. The source of the infection was a single person on the aeroplane with influenza.”