Cold and Flu
Viruses (biological)

How long can a cold virus live in the air?


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Life of Cold Virus While In the Air

It is important to understand that viruses don't actually live. They are simply DNA or RNA material encased within a protein complex (a virion). They cause damage when they come in contact with a host's cells and are able to attach and take them over to replicate themselves using the host's energy and materials. A more appropriate question might be how long can a virus stay airborne? This can be answered if the size of the specific viral organism is known and how much weight it has to affect the ability of the respiratory droplet containing it to stay afloat on air currents produced by the cough or sneeze. Usually, especially for cold and flu viruses, this is only a matter of seconds and for a diameter of six feet from the person who coughs or sneezes and produces the respiratory droplets, otherwise, they fall from the air to land on surfaces in that approximate 6 foot area.

They can remain active (e.g., able to infect someone) for longer on the surfaces and on objects that receive the droplets as they fall from the air. Often, for flu and cold viruses, this is around 48 hours, but does vary as noted above according to the size of the individual virions. See the related questions below for more details.