Published: Sat, January 20, 2018
Medicine | By Brett Sutton

Flu May Be Spread By Just Breathing

Flu May Be Spread By Just Breathing

The new details about how flu spreads-a topic that in the past has stirred up scientific controversy over which size of respiratory droplets can carry the viruses-come as the United States and other countries battle a tough flu season (see related CIDRAP News story).

John Swartzberg, a professor with UC Berkeley's School of Public Health, said talking, just like coughing and sneezing, can easily spread the flu virus.

Californian health authorities said Friday that flu fatalities among Californians under 65 this year has risen to a record 74, which highlighted a serious epidemic that USA scientists say could easily be spread by simply breathing.

The researchers characterised influenza virus in exhaled breath from 142 confirmed cases of people with influenza during natural breathing, prompted speech, spontaneous coughing, and sneezing, and assessed the infectivity of naturally occurring influenza aerosols.

Flu can be spread from person to person simply via breathing, a new study has found, casting doubt on Government health adverstisements that on focus on sneezing.

"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", study co-author Sheryl Ehrman, dean of the College of Engineering at San José State University, said in a statement.


Colorized transmission electron micrograph of negatively stained SW31 (swine strain) influenza virus particles.

Researchers said the findings shed new light on the potential importance of airborne transmission because of the large quantities of infectious virus being exhaled from people suffering from flu. Patients were also asked to cough, sneeze, and say the alphabet three times.

This suggested coughing was not necessary for infectious aerosol generation in the fine aerosol droplets.

This suggests that "sneezing does not appear to make an important contribution to influenza virus shedding in aerosols", although it could play a role in spreading the virus through the contamination of surfaces, the researchers said.

Nearly half (48%) of the 23 fine aerosol samples collected during normal breathing contained viral RNA and nearly three quarters of these (73%) also contained infectious virus.

"Our study reinforces that so if they are really sick, you would want to stay home, don't go to work, don't go in public spaces, stay off public transportation don't go to the grocery store and that should reduce the likelihood of transmitting the flu", she said.

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