As if the flu isn’t miserable enough, a new study from the University of Maryland School of Public Health has discovered that the virus spreads much more easily through the air in smaller droplets than science had previously proven. It turns out that those funny-looking dorks who go around in public wearing disposable face masks may be on the right track, according to the new clues found by the team headed by Dr. Donald Milton. UMD published the study Thursday in medical journal PLOS Pathogens.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that infected people with flu can give it to others at a distance of up to six feet away. When people who have the flu cough or sneeze — or even just talk — moist droplets enter the air in their breath. These droplets can travel through the air to enter the next victim’s nose or mouth. Ugh.
The CDC has warned that adults may feel healthy and not know they’re infected for a day before they get sick, allowing them to spread the flu virus without even knowing they have it. Best of all, it’s possible that some people who carry the flu virus never feel sick but they’re still perfectly capable of infecting others.
No wonder some people have started wearing disposable face masks in public.
What’s new about Dr. Milton’s research is that scientists didn’t actually have much evidence before that wearing the face masks really works. There was only one previous study showing that the masks blocked very large droplets from entering people’s bodies. Yet the new study showed that there is almost nine times as much flu virus in tiny airborne droplets as in the larger droplets.
Fortunately, Milton’s team also demonstrated that wearing a surgical mask while infected with the flu could reduce the amount of virus you spewed into the air almost three-fold. So, once you know you have the flu, you can follow the CDC’s advice to stay home and wear a disposable face mask to prevent spreading it to anybody else.
However, this recommendation isn’t completely satisfying if you want to avoid getting the flu in the first place. People are particularly frustrated this season because, as Melissa Stusinski previously reported, this year’s vaccine was only nine percent effective in seniors over age 65 for the most prevalent strain of the virus. The disappointing results were so bad that popular medical expert Dr. Oz had to come forward to remind people that the vaccine was still better than no protection at all, especially for our most vulnerable citizens.
Fortunately, the worst of the danger is over for the year, since the CDC has reported that seasonal flu outbreaks peaked in February.
A vaccine that might not work or a dorky mask that makes you feel like Howard Hughes during a psychotic break? With choices like that, I’m glad the flu season is almost over.