Flu is More Contagious Than You Think! Super Emitters Spread Germs Without Coughing

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Flu is contagious even when there's no coughing or sneezing (or spitting). Image courtesy of the American Lung Association

Flu is contagious even when there’s no coughing or sneezing (or spitting). Image courtesy of the American Lung Association

If you know someone who has the flu, you are in more danger of catching it than you think – even if they cover that sneeze or cough.

A new study, Exposure to Influenza Virus Aerosols During Routine Patient Care, published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, sheds light on the transmission of the influenza virus. The medical establishment has thought that the influenza virus is spread through large-particle respiratory droplet transmission – these droplets are disbursed through the air when the infected person coughs or sneezes; anyone standing within six feet of the sneezing, coughing, sick person runs the risk of inhaling these large-particle droplets and possibly becoming sick. However, Dr. Bischoff and colleagues have discovered something new.

Flu Victims Also Emit Small-Particle Droplets

Dr. Bischoff and colleagues found through their study that the majority of influenza viruses in the air samples that they tested were small particles during non-aerosol-generating activities. ‘Aerosol-generating activities’ are procedures that stimulate coughing and the production of the spray of fluids in tiny droplets in the air. The small particles generated by non-aerosol-generating activities, such as just sitting and breathing, could reach out to six feet around the person with the flu.

Influenza Dangers for Healthcare Providers

Current regulations require healthcare workers to wear fitted respirators during aerosol-generating procedures such as intubation, respiratory and airway suctioning, and collection of lower respiratory tract specimens. During routine non-aerosol-generating procedures, the basic recommendation is for healthcare workers to wear a non-fitted face mask. This is big news for the healthcare field, and means that healthcare workers may still be exposed to the influenza virus, even when they are taking standard precautions.

Dr. Bischoff told Decoded Science that safety precautions in healthcare facilities need to change. He said:
Our findings indicate that most of the Influenza virus particles are released in form of very small droplets.  These droplets are able to stay in the air for extended periods of time and can float over long distances.  This may lead to the exposure of care givers.  Current recommendations focus on the transmission by large droplets and may need to be reevaluated to take into account the smaller particles sizes requiring for example higher quality face masks.

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