Being around a random sneeze or cough during flu season is enough to strike paranoia into one’s heart, but it turns out it takes far less to potentially infect you. Researchers with the University of Maryland and other institutions are behind a newly published study that details how easily the influenza virus can be transmitted. Sneezing and coughing can spread the virus, of course, but so can simply breathing.
The research was detailed in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, where it details the process that found flu virus transmission risk. Coughing is problematic, as far as spreading the virus is concerned, but so is simply exhaling. To determine this, the researchers monitored the influenza virus in volunteers’ breath.
The researchers gathered 218 nasopharyngeal swabs, 218 thirty-minute exhaled breath samples, as well as samples from sneezing, spontaneous coughing, and prompted speech. A total of 142 volunteers with confirmed cases of influenza were used for this process.
Only a few sneezes were observed during this time, but the study found that they weren’t greatly associated with spreading the virus via fine aerosol droplets. As well, 48-percent of 23 fine aerosol samples gathered via means other than coughing were found to have viral RNA levels that were detectable. Of those, 8 had infectious virus.
In explaining the findings, study lead researcher Dr. Donald Milton said, “We found that flu cases contaminated the air around them with infectious virus just by breathing, without coughing or sneezing.” As such, typical preventative measures like washing your hands and staying away from coughing individuals aren’t adequate enough to avoid getting the flu.
SOURCE: University of Maryland