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Flu by the Book

December 14, 2009

A listener asks if handling library books puts him at an increased risk of contracting an influenza virus.


Avoiding the flu…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Listener Robert Camp of Jupiter, Florida says he’s a voracious reader of library books. But it’s flu season, and he wants to know if he’s at any risk of contracting either seasonal flu or the H1N1 virus by handling all those books. We consulted infectious disease specialist Dr. William Schaffner, of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. He says not to worry.

WILLIAM SCHAFFNER (Vanderbilt University School of Medicine):
Viruses on inanimate surfaces are usually there in very small numbers, not an infectious dose, and the viruses die off very very rapidly.

He says infected people carry highly concentrated doses of influenza virus, so what you really have to worry about is person-to-person contact. Washing your hands with soap and water often or using sanitizing wipes can help decrease your chances of contracting a flu virus. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.