The influenza virus is actually transmitted faster just by breathing rather than by coughing or sneezing, a new study reveals.
Scientists have uncovered strong evidence that infected people exhale the virus out through their mouths and noses in the form of aerosol particles that are tiny enough to remain suspended in the air for hours.
This new discovery on how the flu is spread comes as the United States is in the midst of a devastating influenza season and allows healthcare service providers to fine-tune their recommendations for disease prevention.
Analyzing Aerosol Samples With The Gesundheit Machine
From December 2012 through March 2013, a research team led by the University of Maryland recruited college students at the institution's College Park campus who were experiencing flu-like symptoms.
Out of the 355 participants that were tested, a total of 142 were confirmed to have the flu virus. Then from among the infected participants, the scientists obtained nasopharyngeal samples during the first three days after the onset of symptoms.
To measure aerosol transmission, each of the participants sat inside a chamber with their faces placed in a large metal cone for half an hour. This cone instrument is a part of the Gesundheit machine, which captures exhaled breath to detect and measure virus content.
Participants were asked to cough, sneeze, and utter the alphabet for three times. Overall, the team collected 218 samples within 218 breathing sample sessions.
Surprisingly, 11 of the 23 samples taken when the participants weren't coughing or sneezing contained detectable viral RNA. Of these samples, eight had the virus itself.
"So when someone is coming down with influenza, they should go home and not remain in the workplace and infect others," said Dr. Donald Milton, professor of environmental health at the University of Maryland's School of Public Health and the study's lead researcher.
How To Prevent The Spread Of Influenza Virus
Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend annual vaccination, as well as good health habits to stop the spread of the virus. However, the recent study proves these measures are no longer enough.
"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," said Sheryl Ehrman, Don Beall Dean of San Jose State University's Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering and coauthor of the study.
According to Ehrman, staying confined at home and out of public spaces would make a significant difference in preventing the spread of the influenza virus.