Flu season. As of late December, we’ve officially entered the coldest, nastiest, and sickliest stretch of the year. It’s also the stretch of year when you’re likely at your most paranoid. You know, every time a colleague or a loved one emits a nasty cough, you can’t help but shoot them a look that all but screams, “Are you about to get me sick?!”
Our collective fear raises interesting question: Is there science-backed “safe” distance we should keep from someone we presume is carrying the contagious virus?
Believe it or not, there’s a very specific answer.
“Most experts think that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze, or talk,” says the CDC. “These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.”
If that doesn’t gross you out enough, consider the fact that the flu is a tricky virus that actually bides its time. According to the William Schaffner, M.D., a flu specialist from Vanderbilt University Medical Center, you can be sick for up to two whole days with the flu without even knowing you have it. “If I get infected, I can spread the flu for 24 to 48 hours before I get sick,” he told The Wall Street Journal. “That’s in the virus’s favor. It makes it easier to spread.”
This is all terrible news if you live in a major city and use public transportation. But regardless of where you are, your best course of action to prevent yourself from catching the virus that kills as many as 12,000 Americans a year is to head out to your pharmacy and get a flu shot.
According to the CDC, it “protects against the viruses that research suggests will be most common.”
And once you’re vaccinated, you can also prevent the flu by frequently wash your hands, wiping down gym equipment before you use it, avoiding contact with people who you know are sick, and steering clear of these 25 Habits That Increase Your Flu Risk.
Oh, and stay at least six feet away from Steve in Accounting who has a really nasty cough.
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