How Flu Viruses Spread

The main way that illnesses like colds and flu are spread is from person to person by coughs and sneezes. This can happen when droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person move through the air and make contact with the mouth or nose of people nearby.

Droplets from an infected person can also make contact with environmental surfaces (like the tops of tables). The virus can then be spread from those surfaces if a person touches the droplets and then touches his or her own eyes, mouth, or nose before washing his or her hands.

The virus also can be spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes into his or her hands and then touches a surface (like a phone, remote control, or toy) before washing his or her hands. Another person could become sick if he or she touches that surface and then touches his or her own eyes, mouth, or nose before washing. Flu viruses and other germs can live two hours or longer on hard environmental surfaces like tables, doorknobs, and desks. Surfaces are likely to be touched much more often than they can be cleaned and disinfected. Thus, it is important to wash your hands often, keep your hands away from your face, and keep such surfaces clean to help prevent the spread of germs.