Flu virus is protected by mucus when airborne, regardless of humidity

Mucus and other airway secretions surrounding influenza viruses when coughed or exhaled from infected individuals may protect the virus in the aerosol phase, even in high humidity environments.

Laboratory tests using H1N1 flu viruses aerosolised alongside secretions from a human lung cell culture at a range of humidities showed that both the airborne viruses and settled droplets remained equally infective at all humidities, for at least one hour.

This finding is contrary to some previous studies using aerosolised flu virus alone, which suggested that high humidity inactivated the virus, and highlights the potentially important role of airway secretions in airborne disease transmission, with implications for stopping the spread of disease.

Similar tests, which attempt to better replicate the ‘real-world’ emission of viruses alongside other biological components, should be carried out with different strains of flu and other viruses to assess the level of protection afforded by airway secretions.

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