Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

Font Size

2 Easiest Ways to Catch Swine Flu

Study: Being Coughed On, Unwashed Hands Most Reliable Ways to Get Flu
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 18, 2009 -- What's the single most efficient way to catch H1N1 swine flu?

OK, that's a no-brainer. Having a sick person cough directly into your face cannot be a good thing.

Swine Flu Outbreak: Get the Facts

Swine Flu Slideshow

Learn more about the H1N1 swine flu and see what you can do to stay healthy.

View the slideshow.

That gives you more than a 50% chance of getting sick, calculate environmental health experts Mark Nicas, PhD, of the University of California, Berkeley, and Rachael M. Jones, PhD, of the University of Illinois, Chicago.

But if that doesn't happen, what's the next most risky thing?

Touching something contaminated with flu virus and then touching your nose, mouth, or eyes with your unwashed hand gives you a 31% chance at getting sick, Nicas and Jones calculate.

Breathing in tiny particles left hanging in the air from a flu-infected person's cough or sneeze gives you a 17% chance of infection. Breathing in larger particles -- which hang in the air for a shorter time -- gives you only a 0.5% chance of getting sick.

The calculations are based on a scenario in which a family member is taking care of someone sick in bed with a type A flu bug. H1N1 swine flu is one such virus.

Can you count on these numbers to keep you safe? No, Nicas and Jones admit. The calculations are based on many factors and situations -- such as the amount of virus in an infected person's body or the humidity of a room -- that change from day to day and from person to person.

"As a result, we conclude that nonpharmaceutical interventions [to prevent infection with] a pandemic virus must account for all routes of exposure," Nicas and Jones note in their report, published in the September issue of Risk Analysis.

There are four ways to catch the flu, including H1N1 swine flu:

  • Touching a surface contaminated with virus and then touching your face.
  • Breathing in tiny droplets containing flu virus dispersed in the air.
  • Breathing in medium-size droplets containing flu virus, which do not travel as far or hang in the air as long as tiny droplets.
  • Having large droplets deposited directly onto your facial membranes.

"More reliable information concerning these areas would lead to a less uncertain apportionment of influenza infection risk among the four exposure pathways," Nicas and Jones conclude.

Today on WebMD

hot toddy
15 tips to help you feel better.
man sneezing into elbow
Do echinacea and vitamin C really help a cold?
teen girl coughing
Get a good night’s rest with these remedies.
elder berry
Eat these to fight colds, flu, and more.
Natural Cold Flu Remedies Slideshow
cold weather
Allergy And Sinus Symptom Evaluator
Boy holding ear
woman receiving vaccine shot
woman with fever
Waking up from sleep
woman with sore throat