How the A(H1N1) flu is spread, how long do the germs last?

May 4, 2009


This is a classic photo of a sneeze. A good cough or sneeze sprays out a tremendous amount of potentially infectious material. 

Influenza viruses are classified as type A, B, or C based upon their protein composition. Type A viruses are found in many kinds of animals, including ducks, chickens, pigs, and whales, and also humans. The type B virus widely circulates in humans. Type C has been found in humans, pigs, and dogs and causes mild respiratory infections, but does not spark epidemics.

Type A influenza is the most frightening of the three. It is believed responsible for the global outbreaks of 1918, 1957, and 1968. Type A viruses are subdivided into groups based on two surface proteins, HA and NA. Scientists have characterized 16 HA subtypes and 9 NA subtypes.

You can get the flu if someone around you who has the flu coughs or sneezes. You can get the flu simply by touching a surface like a telephone or door knob that has been contaminated by a touch from someone who has the flu. The viruses can pass through the air and enter your body through your nose or mouth. If you’ve touched a contaminated surface, they can pass from your hand to your nose or mouth.

You are at greatest risk of getting infected in highly populated areas, such as in crowded living conditions and in schools.

Influenza is most easily spread by droplets that come into contact with our mucus membranes such as when someone coughs or sneezes in our faces. If we shake hands with an infected person who has just wiped their nose and then we rather quickly rub our nose or eyes with our own hand, then we could get the flu. So, good hand washing does play a role in diminishing the spread of the disease.

How long can the virus survive on objects? If someone sneezes and touches a grocery cart how will that cart carry the virus?

The virus survives on surfaces for a number of hours. More specifically, some viruses and bacteria can live two hours or longer on surfaces such as ATMs, doorknobs, computer keyboards and money.

Wash your hands before:
Preparing food
Caring for someone who is sick

Wash your hands after:
Coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose
Using the bathroom
Changing diapers
Caring for someone who is ill
Touching an animal or animal waste
Taking out the garbage
Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and running water is unavailable.

See also: “The germiest place in your house”


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