How Long Can Flu Viruses Live on Surfaces?


In cold and flu season, many of us don’t want to be in the presence of sick people or shake hands in case we pick up a virus and become ill.  When everyone is busy sneezing and sniffing, how likely is it for you to become infected this way?

Viruses do survive on hard surfaces

Personal contact with a sick person – breathing in droplets from a sneeze or shaking a hand – is, in fact, the most common way for a virus to spread.

How long a virus survives depends on what type of virus it is, conditions and the type of surface.  For example, a lower temperature can increase the chances of survival, according to the NHS.  Flu viruses are evidently able to survive on hard surfaces for up to 48 hours.

Viruses usually remain active longer on stainless steel and other hard surfaces than on soft surfaces such as fabric. An infectious flu virus will only survive on a tissue for about 15 minutes.  Cold viruses may not survive as long, but there is some evidence that suggests they are able to survive and be passed on for up to 24 hours.

Some surfaces are worse than others

Touching bus poles can definitely make you sick, especially if you touch them within five to 10 minutes after they have been touched by a sick person.  Some germy spots are more likely to be sources of infection, such as bus poles, handrails, light switches, faucets and door handles. You may not think about a computer keyboard, but this can also be a place to pick up a virus. Kitchen countertops are another culprit.

How can you prevent becoming infected?

Short of wearing latex gloves all the time, it’s difficult to protect yourself, but there are certain measures you can take. Wash your hands and keep them away from your face! Many of us touch our faces without even realizing it and conduct those germs to a vulnerable spot on our bodies.

Rub your eyes or scratch your nose and you’re likely to get sick if you have a virus on your hands. Viruses usually fall to low levels within a few minutes after being transferred to your hands, but even within those few minutes, you may just touch your face.

Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if you’re unable to keep washing your hands. Sneeze into a tissue or your hands if you’re already sick to prevent passing on your germs to others. If you’re feeling under the weather, keep away from others until you feel better. The Mayo Clinic advises that you remain infectious until a fever has been gone for at least 24 hours.

Keeping your hands clean at all times is one of the best ways to prevent yourself from becoming sick – other than going for a flu shot. You can also make a practice of wiping down surfaces with alcohol-based or anti-bacterial cleaners to help kill any viruses and decrease the risks of transmission.