Some Flu Patients May Pose Greater Risk to Healthcare Providers

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , February 8, 2013

Bischoff says researchers could not find a way to proactively identify the super emitters. "We collected a lot of data from these individuals and we looked into that, but it was a pilot study so we had a very limited amount of participants," he says.

"So, we tested pretty much everything that we collected from them: from vaccinations to other medical conditions they may have had to age-related factors. Nothing could be matched, but that doesn't mean there couldn't be a link between some of these factors and the super emitters' status by itself. Next would be to look at that in a larger study overcoming the limitation of the pilot study."

"If we can identify them we can implement some preventive measures, be it face masks or anything else we can come up with to protect any caregivers that come into close contact with them."

It is generally believed that the flu virus spreads mostly through large particles emitted within three to six feet of the infected person. As a result, existing infection-control efforts for bedside providers have required the use of fitted respirators during bronchoscopies, intubations, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and other aerosol-generating procedures.

However, Bischoff says that most of the influenza virus in air samples collected for the study was found in small particles during routine care up to six feet from the patient's head. Those small particles float in the air for hours and can travel relatively long distances, and can more easily penetrate non-fitted protective masks.

"Everybody emitted the virus up to six feet from the patient's bed. It was pretty much at the end of the patient bed when you stood in front of it," Bischoff says.

John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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