by Rebecca Aldag, MBA, MS, CNS
The headlines in a recent social media post caught my attention, and I immediately dug through the post to get more details. Yes, this was the conclusion of a recent study by researchers at the University of Maryland, College Park, MD, published in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, January, 18, 2018 ahead of print.
Yes, it’s a valid study, not hearsay, and not based on fake news. I read the study three times, and found it to be solid. Let me explain the findings in this very relevant research.
Currently, we know little about how much of the influenza virus is shed in the breath, and how infectious this may be, if at all. This study concluded that, neither sneezing nor coughing, is important in the aerosolization of the influenza virus, in infected individuals. The breath alone, or simply the act of exhaling, emits a significant amount of influenza viral particles, contained in the aerosol created by the breath. The study goes on to say that the breath aerosol of influenza infected persons, who had been vaccinated that current year and the year prior, contains 6.3 times the amount of the shedded virus! Let me say that another way. Individuals who were actively infected with the influenza virus, and who had been vaccinated that year and the previous year, were found to shed 6.3 times the number of viral particles in the breath, as individuals who were actively infected, and had not been vaccinated for the influenza virus. What I believe is implied here, is that vaccinated individuals, especially those who vaccinate every year, have the potential to transmit a much higher amount of the influenza virus, than someone who has not been vaccinated.
This needs to be further studied, in order to better understand the mechanism for transmission of such a highly infective virus. I think most of us were under the impression, it was a sneeze or cough that was more likely to transmit the virus.
If you would like to read the paper, go to www.pnas.org and search “Infectious virus in exhaled breath of symptomatic seasonal influenza cases from a college community”.
I’m not writing this to elicit a debate on whether we should, or should not vaccinate. Rather, I wish to explore if implementation of other measures, may act to significantly reduce the transmission of the influenza infection. Here are two that I propose:
- An infected person, or one who feels they are coming down with a cold, SHOULD NOT GO OUT IN PUBLIC! This means, no school, no work, no events, no shopping, and anywhere else that larger numbers of people would be present.
- When infected, put on a mask. Masks should be readily available in public places, (just as we see hand sanitizer and wipes). This is specifically for the sick individual who ventures into a public place, and for the elderly, young or immunocompromised, where getting sick could be life threatening.
I understand the implications of not going into work when one is sick. When I worked in corporate America, I was told by my manager, that unless I was in the hospital, I was to report to work. Thus, I went to work with an active case of strep throat, and numerous other upper respiratory ailments (I was young at the time, I would not do that now). We have much greater control over choosing to put on a mask when sick. I traveled to Japan years ago, and observed people on the streets, riding bikes and in the stores, wearing a mask because they were sick! We put on a mask at the doctor’s office. Why not make it standard and customary to do so in every public place, if one is sick? I am so curious how these two actions would effect the transmission rate of infectious respiratory viruses, such as influenza. My guess is it would have immediate and significant impact.
So there you have it. My take on an eye opening study.