Catch­ing the Flu May Be as Easy as Just Breath­ing

Trillions - - In This Issue -

A new study about how peo­ple catch the flu shows that it is far easier to con­tract the virus than was pre­vi­ously be­lieved, which may help ex­plain why it spreads so rapidly.

Ac­cord­ing to new re­search con­ducted by a Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land team, it ap­pears that peo­ple can catch the flu just by breath­ing near an in­fected per­son.

Up un­til now, the com­mon be­lief was that the flu is caught when an in­fected per­son coughs or sneezes near some­one or by touch­ing sur­faces con­tam­i­nated with the flu virus. All that is still true, of course, but the new re­search may change the way all of us need to think about be­ing around peo­ple who are sick.

The big sur­prise in the study had noth­ing to do with how in­fec­tious the flu virus is. It was in­stead in dis­cov­er­ing that the ex­haled breath from flu suf­fer­ers is filled with very large quan­ti­ties of the flu virus.

Dr. Don­ald Mil­ton, M.D., PPH, Pro­fes­sor of En­vi­ron­men­tal Health at the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land School of Pub­lic Health and lead re­searcher for the study, said, “We found that flu cases con­tam­i­nated the air around them with in­fec­tious virus just by breath­ing, with­out cough­ing or sneez­ing.” That dis­cov­ery was bad enough, but the re­searchers also found that “peo­ple with flu gen­er­ate in­fec­tious aerosols (tiny droplets that stay sus­pended in the air for a long time) even when they are not cough­ing and es­pe­cially dur­ing the first days of ill­ness.”

What that means is that the in­fec­tious field for a sin­gle sick per­son could stay in the air around them for a con­sid­er­able amount of time, even if they are not cough­ing, sneez­ing or out­wardly demon­strat­ing any spe­cific flu symp­toms.

The re­search pro­to­col in­cluded cap­tur­ing ex­haled breath from more than 142 con­firmed cases of peo­ple with in­fluenza. Tests were con­ducted in cases where the re­search sub­jects were sim­ply breath­ing, where they were asked to speak and where they coughed or sneezed with­out prompt­ing. Two hun­dred and eigh­teen na­sopha­ryn­geal swabs and an­other 218 30-minute sam­ples of ex­haled breath and spon­ta­neous cough­ing and sneez­ing were eval­u­ated one day, two days and then three days after the flu symp­toms first ap­peared.

What the re­search team learned was that of the 23 sam­ples they ex­am­ined, which were col­lected around pa­tients who were not cough­ing at all at the time, a full 48% (11 of the 23) had de­tectable RNA from the virus and eight of those con­tained the in­fec­tious virus it­self. The team also noted that even when sneez­ing was present, there was not a lot higher pres­ence of vi­ral RNA copies than in the air con­tam­i­nated by breath­ing alone. Among other things, that sug­gests that de­spite what had been pre­vi­ously be­lieved, sneez­ing ap­par­ently has noth­ing to do with any active shed­ding of the virus into the air. In all cases, the size of the par­ti­cles dis­persed in the aerosol spread from breath­ing alone was fine enough to eas­ily stay air­borne and be an active con­tam­i­na­tion source.

As Sh­eryl Ehrman, Don Beall Dean of the Charles W. David­son Col­lege of En­gi­neer­ing at San José State Uni­ver­sity, said about these dis­cov­er­ies, “The study find­ings sug­gest that keep­ing sur­faces clean, wash­ing our hands all the time and avoid­ing peo­ple who are cough­ing does not pro­vide com­plete pro­tec­tion from get­ting the flu.” To avoid spread­ing the dis­ease, she said that “stay­ing home and out of pub­lic spa­ces could make a dif­fer­ence in the spread of the in­fluenza virus.”the re­sults of the study sug­gest that a flu out­break may oc­cur more eas­ily and be much harder to stop than was pre­vi­ously be­lieved. On the pub­lic health in­ter­ven­tion side of the prob­lem, more work is clearly needed to pre­vent the spread of the air­borne par­ti­cles in mod­ern ven­ti­la­tion sys­tems in of­fices, school class­rooms and mass trans­porta­tion sys­tems such as sub­way cars. And on an in­di­vid­ual ba­sis, the old mes­sage that if you’re sick, you should stay home and not con­tam­i­nate any­one else is also truer than ever.

These are wise words to heed, es­pe­cially in a sea­son with one of the worst flu out­breaks ever (par­tic­u­larly in the United States).

Now, some­one just needs to fig­ure out from where the flu re­ally orig­i­nates…

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.