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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

NIOSH: Don't Breathe Easy About Airborne Flu

By Gary Evans, Medical Writer

Recent research supports “the idea that airborne infectious particles could play an important role in the spread of influenza,” the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports.

“Influenza is known to be transmitted through respiratory secretions containing the virus,” notes William G. Lindsley, PhD, a research biomedical engineer in the NIOSH Health Effects Laboratory Division. “Airborne transmission of influenza by small aerosol droplets over longer distances is debated in the literature.”

In a blog post citing NIOSH research, Lindsley argues that healthcare workers and other patients may need to be better protected from those with influenza if airborne transmission is verified.

NIOSH researchers studied 53 volunteers positive for influenza A. They found that 28 (53%) produced aerosol particles containing viable virus during coughing, and 22 (42%) produced aerosols with viable virus during exhalation. Thirteen subjects had both cough aerosol and exhalation aerosol samples that contained viable virus.

“Thus, both mechanisms for producing infectious aerosols may be important depending upon such factors as the distance from a patient, the timescale, the infectious dose, and the air flow within a room,” Lindsley wrote.

For more information on flu and infectious diseases, see Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.