The UK is in the grip of a flu crisis, with more than 120 deaths in England this winter already, new figures reveal.
In the last week flu deaths have soared by 41 per cent, while some 8.3 million people are thought to have be struck by the virus in the past week, according to online tool FluSurvey.
And while the flu jab is your best bet at protecting yourself, experts say, it’s important to practise good hygiene as well.
But now, experts suggest just breathing in the same vicinity as a flu-ridden loved one could leave you at risk of the nasty bug.
Experts from the University of Maryland in the US detected quantities of the virus in the breath of people who were ill.
Dr Milton, lead author and professor of environmental health, said: “We found that flu cases contaminated the air around them with infectious virus just by breathing, without coughing or sneezing.
“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.”
Dr Milton and his team analysed the breath of 142 people who had flu.
They then compared the amount of virus exhaled with the amount found when they coughed or sneezed.
About 48 per cent of participants were found to be spreading the virus simply by breathing.
Sheryl Ehrman, of San José State University who contributed to the study, said: “The study findings suggest that keeping surfaces clean, washing our hands all the time, and avoiding people who are coughing does not provide complete protection from getting the flu.
“Staying home and out of public spaces could make a difference in the spread of the influenza virus.”
The flu outbreak in the UK could hit epidemic levels in two weeks.
More than 4,500 people were admitted to hospital with flu – up 11 per cent on the previous seven days.
And more than 60 per cent (2,754 patients) were suffering influenza B, the vast majority caused by Japanese flu, the latest figures reveal.
Another 361 people were admitted with deadly Aussie flu, with 20 fighting for their lives in intensive care with the H3N2 strain.
According to the Royal College of GPs flu admissions across the UK are up 150 per cent since the start of 2018, according to their data.
About 31,000 patients visited their doctor with flu-like symptoms between January 8-14, a rise of more than 9,000 on the previous week.