Some Flu Patients May Pose Greater Risk to Healthcare Providers

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , February 8, 2013

One in five flu patients exhales so much more of the airborne virus than other flu patients, that researchers are asking whether these "super emitters" pose a greater likelihood of transmitting  the virus to the people near them.

Werner Bischoff, MD, assistant professor of infectious diseases at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC, and lead author of a study published in the Jan. 31 online edition of The Journal of Infectious Disease, told HealthLeaders Media that more research is needed before he can determine the potential threat that super emitters may present to healthcare providers.  

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"It's too early at this stage to offer any broad recommendations to healthcare providers or caregivers overall," Bischoff says. "The study looked at the release of the influenza virus. We did not look at the transmission patterns. We need to take a further step to find out how influenza is transmitted and what we can do to prevent it."

The study examined 94 patients at Wake Forest Baptist who were screened for influenza symptoms during the 2010-2011 flu season. Nasal swabs were taken, and air samples were obtained from within one foot, three feet and six feet of patients during routine care.

Of the 94 patients, 61 tested positive for the flu virus and 26 released influenza into the air. Five of the patients emitted up to 32 times more virus than the others. Those patients also reported a greater severity of illness.

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