We used to think you had to cough or sneeze to spread the flu, but researchers at the University of Maryland found we can spread the virus just by breathing.
It’s not surprising then that certain groups or behaviors can hasten that spread, starting with young children. Studies find preschool and elementary school-age kids play a big role in spreading influenza in the community.
Young children are generally more susceptible to catching the flu, and they can also spread it for a longer period of time. Adults are contagious about 24 hours before symptoms start and for around seven days after. But young children may still be contagious into the second week of the illness.
“Children may potentially inadvertedly, transmit to other children and to other adults,” said Dr. Trina Mathew, of Beaumont Infection Prevention.
Often, parents end up bringing those illnesses to work. A study by Ball State University found a 1% increase in the employment rate was correlated with a 16% increase in the number of influenza-related doctor visits. The effect was highest in the retail and health care industries.
Better sick day policies could help reduce*that spread by encouraging sick workers to stay home.
Large gatherings can also increase the spread of flu. To help counter this, some places of worship encourage people not to hold hands during prayer or shake hands to greet each other during flu season. Communion practices may also be changed.
The indoor environement has an impact, too. Research has found humidity is one of the most important factors in how long the flu virus is able to survive. In one study, at low relative humidity levels five times more virus remained in the air an hour after a cough compared to a high humidity.
Lower humidity also makes it harder for our respiratory tract to protect us. The most effective way to reduce the spread of flu in the community is to increase the number of people who are vaccinated against it.
That helps protect not only individuals, but also people who can’t get a flu shot or who don’t get a good response to it, because of other health problems.
It’s not too late to get a flu shot, if you haven’t already.