New Study Shows Spread of a Respiratory Virus in the Air

Airborne Transmission of a Respiratory Virus

Background: A cough or sneeze can release millions of microbes (respiratory virus or bacteria) that can then be inhaled and cause a chest infection.
Man coughing water particles into the air.

Man coughing water into the air. Droplets can then infect others if the “infected” air is inhaled.

Certainly, if you go to a medical office, Urgent Care, or hospital, there are signs that advise those with “colds” and coughing to wear a mask to prevent transmission to others. Study: Dr. Kulkarni and colleagues at the University of Leicester in the UK studied whether the virus was present in the air near the bed of infants infected with the respiratory syncytial virus. All infants were sick enough to be in the hospital. Some were cared for in an open room with six cots, while others were in an isolation cubicle. The study was published in the August 1, 2016, issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine (volume 194; pages 308-316). Results: Air in the areas of the sick infants contained large numbers of the virus. There were reduced numbers of the virus in air as samples were collected farther away (about 15 feet) from the infants compared with about 3 feet away. Levels of the virus were lower, but still present, in the air when sampled 2 hours after seven infants were discharged from the hospital. Conclusions: The air close to infants sick with the respiratory syncytial virus contained the virus for a significant time. The virus particles were small enough to be inhaled by others into the lower parts of the lung. The authors concluded that this likely can lead to spread of a respiratory virus to others. My Comments: This study emphasizes that it is important to be vigilant if you have a chronic lung condition, like COPD, to prevent a chest infection. Wash hands and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Make sure to be vaccinated for the flu (yearly) and for pneumonia (two different shots). Avoid those who are sick with a “cold” or chest infection. Carry a mask with you and wear it if you are around others who are coughing or sneezing.
Woman wearing mask to prevent inhaling viruses and bacteria in the air.

Woman wearing mask to prevent inhaling viruses and bacteria in the air.

Donald A. Mahler, M.D. is Emeritus Professor of Medicine at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire. He works as a pulmonary physician at Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont, NH, where he is Director of Respiratory Services.