For years, people have bought and used products that will kill germs on door knobs, counter tops, and other hard surfaces; but what happens when it turns out that this type of contact is not the easiest mode of transmission for the flu virus? Will most people actually consider wearing a surgical mask if it means that it will keep others from getting sick? A new study published in the most recent issue of PLOS Pathogens shows evidence that the flu virus has a higher chance of being spread through the small aerosol particles that people release into the air when they cough, sneeze, or even simply exhale. These tiny particles can travel up to six feet through the air unlike their larger droplet counterparts which will settle down on hard surfaces.
The key finding in this study is that the tiny airborne drops actually have up to nine times more viral copies than the large drops people may end up touching. Because of their small size, it makes it easier for nearby people to simply inhale the flu ridden particles. With more of the virus present, the odds of getting sick increase tremendously. This means that anytime a person coughs or sneezes in the vicinity of any other person, there is a good chance that someone new just caught the flu.
This viral shedding has always been a big concern in healthcare settings. The Center for Disease Control recommended surgical masks for healthcare workers in order to protect them from getting sick while caring for ill patients. Many Houston hospitals already require employees to wear a mask if they refuse to get the flu shot. From this recent study, Dr. Milton and his associates discovered that the number of flu viral copies in the fine particles was reduced by 3.4 fold when coming out of a surgical mask. This is paramount data for the support of sick individuals wearing a mask when out among others.
Wearing a mask is nothing new in quite a number of other countries around the world. In cities where the large populations and an uncontrolled illness can quickly cause an epidemic, masks make all the difference. They should not only be seen as a way to prevent one from getting sick, but also as a means of protecting others from one's own contagiousness during the flu.