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3 Unusual Facts About the Influenza Virus That You May Not Know

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Who knew that the flu was “smart”?

Are you feeling a tickle in the back of your throat? Does your body feel downright achy? The bad news is that it’s flu season, but the good news is that information and fast-acting remedies can help you loosen its germy grasp. Use these unusual facts about the influenza virus to build up your knowledge so you can create an informed defensive plan.

The Flu Spreads Much Easier Than You Think

Remember being told to stay away from someone who’s coughing or sneezing? Good advice, right? Sure, but it turns out that simply steering clear of someone’s sneezes isn’t a full solution. According to research conducted by Dr. Donald Milton, MD, MPH, professor of environmental health at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, avoiding the flu just got a whole lot more difficult.

"We found that flu cases contaminated the air around them with infectious virus just by breathing, without coughing or sneezing," explained Milton. "People with flu generate infectious aerosols (tiny droplets that stay suspended in the air for a long time) even when they are not coughing and especially during the first days of illness. So when someone is coming down with influenza, they should go home and not remain in the workplace and infect others."1

Mucus Is Helpful (in Theory)

OK, let’s get gross for a second. Mucus isn’t fun to deal with, but it turns out that it may actually be a key component to beating the flu altogether. According to research published in the journal Cell Reports by study author Lars Hangartner, PhD, an associate professor of immunology in the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at Scripps Research, “antibodies called IgAs, which are commonly found on mucosal surfaces, can actually protect us from infections."

While more research needs to be conducted to figure out how to harness those antibodies, it seems that scientists may be close to discovering the secret to beating the flu for good — and it was in our noses all along!

The Flu Virus Is Smart

Researchers at Aarhus University have determined that the influenza virus is smart enough to mask itself from discovery long enough to settle in and make you want to curl up on the couch with a box of tissues. "The virus contains a protein that masks the virus entering the cell. In this way, the influenza virus can spread more easily before the immune system recognizes that it is a virus and attempts to fight it," says Associate Professor Christian Holm from the Department of Biomedicine at Aarhus University.2

What does all this mean to you? While your body recovers from the virus, you can help alleviate discomfort from the symptoms by using an over-the-counter medicine such as Theraflu, which will help treat your symptoms while you recover. Then, be sure to contact your doctor for further treatment.

1University of Maryland. “Flu may be spread just by breathing, new study shows; coughing and sneezing not required.” University of Maryland. School of Public Health, 18, January 2018.
2Aarhus University. "Influenza viruses can hide from the immune system." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 February 2016.