Flu patients emit more virus into air during routine health visits

A new study demonstrated that healthcare workers can be exposed to influenza through virus-containing particles emitted by patients during routine care.

The study, published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, suggests that existing infection control protocols may be ineffective in protecting providers from influenza, according to

A team from the Wake Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina screened nearly 100 patients for flu-like symptoms who had been admitted to the emergency department or an inpatient care unit at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, where providers are mandatorily administered the flu vaccine.

Nasopharyngeal samples were analyzed by rapid testing and PCR analysis. Air samples were also collected at various distances from each patient. During the sampling, the number of patients' coughs and sneezes were counted. Patients also completed a questionnaire during their admission process, reports.

Sixty-five percent of the patients tested positive for influenza and 43 percent released the virus into the air. Five of the patients emitted up to 32 times more of the virus into the air. The existence of this group, the super-emitters, suggests that some patients are more likely to spread the virus to more people, although the study only looked at the presence of particles, not transmission of the illness. They also suffered more severe cases of the illness.