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

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Some people shed up to 32 times more influenza viruses. Photo by: PD-USGOV.

Some people shed up to 32 times more influenza viruses. Photo by: PD-USGOV.

Flu Virus Contagious Victims: “Super Emitters”

Once the influenza virus is inside your body, it begins to multiply and then you start shedding the virus; even before you start feeling sick. This means that you could be contagious starting the day before you developed symptoms to ten or more days after you feel better. Dr. Bischoff and his colleagues discovered in their study that some people are much more contagious than others. These extra-contagious flu victims are what they call, “super-emitters,” meaning that they emit or shed more influenza viruses than others.

In their study, 19 percent of their patients (five patients out of 26 patients that released the virus) released up to 32 times more influenza viruses than others. Patients who were deemed, “super emitters,” also had a more severe case of influenza.

The researchers don’t know for sure why some people emit more influenza-containing particles than others – Dr. Bischoff told Decoded Science:
“At the moment we do not understand why individuals emit influenza in varying amounts.  Our study found that the severity of illness was related to emitting influenza.  However, due to the small number of participants we were not able to investigate the underlying mechanisms of Influenza release.”

Influenza: Highly Contagious Flu Sufferers

Dr. Bischoff tells Decoded Science that the discovery of the “super emitter” was, in his opinion, the most surprising part of this study. He said:
“These super-emitters may be the driving forces in the spread of Influenza if emission can be linked to transmission.”
Influenza is an illness that should not be taken lightly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is estimated that 3,000 to 49,000 people die every year as a result of the flu in the United States, and this year, we’re seeing epidemic levels of flu.

More research is better – after all, according to Dr. Bischoff, “We hope that these findings will help to better understand how Influenza is spread and subsequently develop effective strategies to prevent the transmission in healthcare and community settings.”

Resources:

Bischoff, W., Swett., K, Leng, I. Exposure to Influenza Virus Aerosols During Routine Patient Care. Journal of Infectious Diseases(2013). Accessed January 31, 2013.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How Flu Spreads. (2013). Accessed January 30, 2013.

Health Protection Surveillance Center. Aerosol Generating Procedures. (2010). Accessed January 30, 2013.

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