Consider the following hypothetical:
A graduate student would like to return a set of assignments before a certain deadline, but she currently has the flu and may sneeze or cough while grading the papers at home. Under the assumption that she has just graded the papers but is still in possession of them, how long should she wait before returning them to the students? At what point does the risk of transmitting the flu to a student via paper become negligible?

  • $\begingroup$ Unlikely. Because as long as she has the flu (and we're talking about the real influenza here, not just some nasty cold) she will neither grade any papers nor return them because she will be in bed being sick. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Mar 15 '17 at 18:59

Perhaps just eight to 12 hours.

Both influenza A and B viruses survived for 24-48 hr on hard, nonporous surfaces such as stainless steel and plastic but survived for less than 8-12 hr on cloth, paper, and tissues. Measurable quantities of influenza A virus were transferred from stainless steel surfaces to hands for 24 hr and from tissues to hands for up to 15 min.

--Survival of influenza viruses on environmental surfaces.

Or, perhaps, up to 17 days, when in the presence of "respiratory mucus" (i.e. snot), although even then a couple days was more plausible. Note that this was on Swiss banknotes, which isn't standard paper.

Influenza A viruses tested by cell culture survived up to 3 days when they were inoculated at high concentrations. The same inoculum in the presence of respiratory mucus showed a striking increase in survival time (up to 17 days).... When nasopharyngeal secretions of naturally infected children were used, influenza virus survived for at least 48 h in one-third of the cases.

-- Survival of influenza virus on banknotes.


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