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Evidence of Airborne Influenza Virus Found in Exhaled Breath Study, New Pandemic Strategy May Be Needed


LOWELL, Mass. ߝ A key new finding provides evidence that influenza virus aerosols are present in the breath of flu patients, suggesting that fine particles may play a role in influenza transmission, thus challenging previous assumptions about the adequacy of preparations for pandemic flu.

Published this week in the online journal PLoS ONE, the study reports on the concentration of influenza virus RNA in the exhaled breath of people infected with flu. The study team was led by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Lowell ߝ Patricia Fabian, post-doctoral fellow; Prof. Donald Milton, M.D.; and James McDevitt, research professor, all in the Work Environment Department; along with colleagues from the Harvard School of Public Health, the University of Hong Kong and Queen Mary Hospital in Hong Kong.

Influenza virus RNA was detected in the exhaled breath of 33 percent of the subjects, patients who were tested at three clinics in Hong Kong. The patients presented with flu symptoms, which was confirmed as influenza A or B virus by rapid test, and the onset of illness was within three days.

When preparing for a pandemic, little is known about the relative importance of direct contact, large droplet, or airborne small particles for flu transmission. The virus particles exhaled during normal breathing could be more numerous and significant than during relatively infrequent coughing or sneezing.
To learn more, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is funding a series of studies about the aerosols produced by influenza-infected subjects and the effectiveness of masks in reducing these aerosols.

UMass Lowell, with a national reputation in science, engineering and technology, is committed to educating students for lifelong success in a diverse world and conducting research and outreach activities that sustain the economic, environmental and social health of the region. UML offers its 12,000 students more than 120 degree choices, internships, five-year combined bachelor’s to master’s programs and doctoral studies in the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Management, the School of Health and Environment, and the Graduate School of Education.

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