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Influenza Quiz: True or False? Flu Viruses Live Longer on Surfaces Than Cold Viruses

December 21, 2009

Most people know that cold and flu viruses can contaminate doorknobs, handrails, elevator buttons and other surfaces.

Studies have found that the survival time for both kinds of viruses varies greatly, from a few seconds to 48+ hours. The reasons have to do with a number of factors, including the type of surface, humidity and temperature.

  • For example, cold and flu viruses survive longer on inanimate surfaces that are nonporous, like metal, plastic and wood, and less on porous surfaces, like clothing, paper and tissue.
  • Most flu viruses can live one to two days on nonporous surfaces, and 8 to 12 hours on porous surfaces.
  • A rather unnerving 2006 study found that avian influenza seemed particularly hardy, surviving as long as six days on some surfaces. (The study noted how long the virus was viable in avian feces.

Cold viruses, it turns out, deteriorate quickly. A study in 2007 found that when objects in a hotel room — light switches, telephones — were contaminated with a cold virus, 60 percent of healthy volunteers picked up the virus when they touched one of the objects an hour later. Eighteen hours later, the transmission rate was cut in half.

On human skin, cold and flu viruses generally last less than a few minutes, but that’s plenty of time for people to infect themselves.  Studies show that most people touch their hands to their face, eyes or mouth many times — enough to cause infection.

So the answer is…flu viruses tend to survive longer than cold viruses.

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