Study suggests flu droplets travel farther than previously thought

A new study supports that airborne viruses can play a role in further spreading influenza and that using N95 respirators provide better protection than surgical masks.

A team of U.S. and Chinese researchers created a simulation of an examination room, complete with mechanized mannequins to represent coughing and breathing humans. The team found that flu viruses floated between the mannequins, which were space approximately six feet apart. An N95 respirator, placed over the mouth of one of the mannequins, was found to stop the virus almost entirely, according to CIDRAP News.

A surgical mask and a poorly fitted respirator were also tried. Each stopped approximately two-thirds of the airborne particles.

The scientists said that their study suggests that anyone in a room with a flu-infected patient risks exposure and that a properly fitted N95 unit provides the best protection.

Current guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledges that the flu virus travels primarily through water droplets from coughs and sneezes, but limits the major risk for infection to approximately three feet, CIDRAP News reports.

An editorial accompanying the study, which was recently published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, said that the role of smaller aerosol particles in spreading influenza remains uncertain. The controversy has led to confusion over the best infection control methods that can be employed by healthcare workers.