Flu Virus Can Be Spread Just From Breathing: New Study

New information released Thursday turns everything we know about the flu on its head, and it comes from scientists in the Bay Area.

Researchers with UC Berkeley and San Jose State University released details from a study that show there is now evidence people sick with the flu can transmit the virus just by breathing.

According to the study, when people who have the flu cough or sneeze, they release particles often with such force that it can infect others. The new research shows that even through breathing, some people could be releasing enough particles to make others sick, especially within the first few days of contracting the virus.

UC Berkeley researcher Jovan Pantelic said just washing hands or covering the mouth when sneezing likely isn't be enough to keep the flu from spreading.

"One particle is the dose," Pantelic said. "So we can get infected by a single dose, and we have seen over 1,000 particles in a period of over a half-hour can be released."

The study's results do not suggest that breathing is the dominant mode of spreading the flu. But the findings could lead to changes across industries, even for architects.

"How would we design indoor spaces that people spend time in that should prevent or reduce the spread of these kinds of diseases," Pantelic said.

Dr. Ronn Berrol of Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland, says the research is encouraging and likely will cause medical experts to rethink public policy.

"So people are starting to go back to different thinking now about: Are things transmitted more significantly in the airways than we appreciated previously?" Berrol said.

The research team also found that not everyone who has the flu will infect others just by breathing. How and why some people release more of the virus through breathing varies on several factors and was not part of the study, they said.

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