Amid flu epidemic, more bad news about its spread
By Kathleen Maclay
18 January 2018
Photo courtesy of LiveScience
The results of a $10 million study regarding the flu virus and its spread, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, state that it is alarmingly easy to contract the flu virus simply by breathing.
Jovan Pantelic, Ph.D., Assistant Professional Researcher at the Center for Built Environment (CBE) the College of Environmental Design, was part of the research team that published this study. Previously, Pantelic explored the transmission of the flu virus when he was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Maryland.
“Our results,” said Pantelic, “show that some people can exhale or cough high quantities of live virus particles — up to 1,000 in 30 minutes. When we consider that an infectious dose is just one virus particle, this means that potentially 1,000 people can be infected in short order.”
Pantelic, whose focus at CBE is studying healthy buildings and indoor air quality, said these findings are especially pertinent in spaces where the density of people is high and the air is typically not freshly circulating, such as public transportation and workspaces.
Typically, flu prevention initiatives centralize on the importance of washing hands to protect against contact transmission, however, the airborne method of infection has been less emphasized.
“Our study changes this perception and shows that the airborne mode is very important,” said Pantelic, who has so far escaped the flu this season. “We need to consider it and design a guideline for it.”
This year’s dominant flu strain, H3N2, has already become widespread in all U.S. states except Hawaii, and the flu season has yet to peak.
“Influenza is most commonly spread through the air in the immediate vicinity of the infected individual (about six feet),” said John Swartzberg, professor emeritus at the Berkeley School of Public Health. “While coughing and sneezing easily spread the virus, so does talking,” he added. “So, stay at least six feet away from anyone with influenza, not just those who are sneezing and coughing, but anyone talking.”
The study was lead by The University of Maryland School of Public Health with partnerships from The University of Nottingham and Wake Forest School of Medicine. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Health funded the study.