By Dr. Mallika Marshall

BOSTON (CBS) — Flu activity continues to be widespread across the country and the season could be the worst in years.

Almost 9,000 Americans have been hospitalized since early October and at least 30 kids have died so far.

As Dr. Mallika Marshall reports, a new study may help explain why the flu tends to spread so fast.

Researchers at the University of Maryland looked at 142 patients with a positive flu test and analyzed their breath samples during the first few days of symptoms. They found that 39% of the samples were positive for infectious flu virus.

Typically when we think of how the flu and cold viruses get circulated in the air, we think of coughing and sneezing, but this study suggests that simply exhaling could release virus into the air.

This provides another good reason why people who are sick with flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, and body aches should stay home from work and school.

It also begs the question whether improved ventilation in schools, offices, and public places might help reduce the spread of flu.

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