We’ve all seen news reports about the revolting germs that lurk on the
surfaces of things we touch every day. So as flu season approaches,
you might be preparing for battle, a battle against flu germs, a battle waged
on doorknobs, and keyboards, and telephones, and other surfaces in your home
But before you douse all your possessions with bleach, there’s one thing you
should know: Experts say that you really don’t need to bother.
Person to Person
The main way that influenza viruses are thought to spread is from person to
person in respiratory droplets of coughs and sneezes. (This is called "droplet
spread.") This can happen when droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected
person are propelled through the air and deposited on the mouth or nose of
people nearby. Influenza viruses may also be spread when a person touches
respiratory droplets on another person or an object and then touches their own
mouth or nose (or...
“Honestly, if you’re trying to prevent the flu, there’s just not evidence
that spraying everything with disinfectant is going to make any difference,”
says Christine Hay, MD, assistant professor at the University of Rochester
Why is that? “Outside of the body, the flu is a really wimpy virus,”
Other flu experts agree. “There may be some transmission of flu
through things like tabletops and doorknobs, but it plays a very minimal role,”
says William Schaffner, MD, chairman of the department of preventive medicine
at Vanderbilt University’s School of Medicine in Nashville.
Even so, there are still things you can do to protect yourself from
influenza -- and kill some flu germs in the process. Here’s what you need
How Are Flu Germs Transmitted?
While the flu virus may be a tough guy when it’s inside your body, in the
outside world, it’s a frail weakling. The way the flu is structured, it
simply isn’t very resilient.
The flu is nothing like some of the nasty gastrointestinal viruses, like the
bane of all cruise ship vacationers, norovirus. “Some of those viruses
can survive on an object for months and withstand cleaning with bleach,” Hay
tells WebMD. “Influenza isn’t like that.”
There have been studies of how long significant amounts of flu germs can
survive on surfaces. Estimates range from a few minutes up to 24 hours,
depending on the type of surface. (It lives longest on hard
While 24 hours seems like a long time, experts downplay the
significance. “I’ve looked at the data, and there just isn’t good
evidence that environmental surfaces have a significant role in the
transmission of the virus,” says Trish M. Perl, MD, assistant professor of
medicine at Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore. Instead, the flu
seems to depend more on direct transmission from an infected person.
Flu Prevention Tip: Clean Your Hands
If you’ve got the urge to clean away flu germs, the best place to start is
with your hands.
“Covering your mouth and washing your hands are the two most important ways
to stop the spread of the flu,” Perl tells WebMD.
What should you wash with? You might assume that antibacterial soap would be
preferable, but that’s the not the case. First of all, flu is caused by a
virus, not bacteria. Second, any type of soap will do.