Got the flu? Just breathing is making your family and friends sick

As we head into winter, the flu season is upon us again and we all know how bad we feel when we get sick. If you've got an appointment booked with your dentist and you get the flu, then call the dentist, tell them you're sick and postpone your appointment until you feel better.

If you visit your dentist when you're sick with influenza, then you risk making everyone at the dental practice sick too!

In fact, just being around other people can make them sick. Even if you're not coughing, new research shows that you can still make people sick just by breathing around them.

Little was known about the amount of infectiousness influenza virus contained in your exhaled breath until recently. Now, a new study has revealed the truth. In this study from the University of Maryland in the USA, researchers screened 355 volunteers who showed signs and symptoms of an acute respiratory illness and of these, they found 142 people had influenza. These 142 people then provided throat swabs and 30-minute samples of their breath for each of the first three days from when they first showed symptoms.

Infectious influenza virus was found in the breath of 39% of the people and in 89% of cultures of the throat swabs. Analysis showed that a significant number of these patients routinely "shed" infectious virus in their breath. Professor D. Milton, who led the team at the University of Maryland, stated that these results show that patients sick with influenza contaminate the air around them just by breathing and not solely by coughing or sneezing, especially during the first few days of illness.

So never visit the dentist when you have the flu and the best course of action is to stay at home, drink lots of fluids and limit contact with others, especially for the first three days that you feel sick. An antiviral medication is available on prescription from your doctor to treat and prevent influenza A and influenza B if started within two days of symptoms. Over-the-counter medications that treat the symptoms are also available that help sufferers endure the recovery process.

Dentists go to great lengths to protect themselves, their staff and other patients from contracting illnesses from their patients, but this new research shows that just being around someone with the flu means you can catch it.

The best ways to avoid catching the flu are to be vaccinated in autumn before the flu season gets into full swing and also to wash your hands regularly and avoid eating and touching your face before washing your hands.

Apart from this new research that shows you can catch the flu just from being around a flu sufferer, viruses like influenza are often transmitted by someone coughing on their hand and then opening a door, or pushing the button in an elevator. Cold (rhinovirus) and flu (influenza) viruses can remain active on hard, non-porous surfaces for several hours and sometimes up to a day. If you were the next person to open the door or push the elevator button in the situation above and then ate a sandwich or rubbed your eyes, you could pickup a cold or the flu. It's that easy!