A new University of Maryland study may have the most flu-averse covering their eyes - and their mouths.

The study found that people may be much more likely to be exposed to the flu virus by airborne means than previously thought, and that having flu patients wear surgical masks can in turn decrease that risk.

"People are generally surprised to learn that scientists don't know for sure how flu spreads," said Dr. Donald Milton, who runs the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health in the university's public health school. "Our study provides new evidence that there is nearly nine times more influenza virus present in the smallest airborne droplets in the breath exhaled from those infected with flu than in the larger droplets that would be expected to carry more virus."

Surgical masks, according to the study, can reduce the release of these virus-ridden small droplets when a patient exhales. The findings back up a Centers for Disease Control recommendation that those with the flu wear such masks to protect those close to them from becoming infected.