If you know someone who is suffering from the flu, you might want to keep your distance—by at least 6 feet—as potentially infectious flu virus particles sneezed or coughed up by the sick person can travel that distance, according to one recent study done in the United States.
The study indicated that flu virus can spread up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) from a patient through minute particles while talking or breathing—breaking the old thought that it spreads only by coughing, sneezing or by holding contaminated surfaces like handrails, doorknobs or mobile phones.
The study, which was published in the Jan. 31 issue of the Journal of Infectious Diseases, involved 94 people who were hospitalized for flu-like symptoms. While the patients lay in bed, the researchers sampled the air in the room using devices that were placed 1, 3 and 6 feet away from each patient (the study did not look at distances beyond 6 feet).
Flu spreads easily wherever people congregate—in office buildings, public transports, or cafeterias, informed Philippine College of Chest Physicians president Dr. Benilda Galvez who added that flu should not be taken lightly as at times it can be fatal, particularly for older people, children under 2 years, pregnant women and those with certain health conditions.
Ways to protect yourself
But don’t lock yourself in a room, either, as there are several ways to protect yourself from getting infected.
The PCCP, which is an organization acknowledged as the authority in pulmonary medicine in the country (composed of recognized and respected experts in the field), suggested that the public should get a flu vaccine every year.
“While regular hand washing dramatically reduces the spread of infection or that covering one’s mouth and nose with a tissue (when coughing or sneezing) or face mask may prevent those around from getting sick, these are not substitutes for getting a flu vaccine,” reminded PCCP VP (and incoming president) Dr. Celeste Mae Campomanes.
Experts suggest getting vaccinated this early, as flu seasons are already unpredictable, and can begin earlier than June here in the Philippines.
Most susceptible would be those who have asthma, diabetes and chronic lung disease, pregnant women, as well as those 65 years and older, as they are more likely to suffer from serious complications like bacterial pneumonia if they get sick with the flu.
Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning day one, before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick while children, on the other hand, may pass the virus for longer than seven days, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Symptoms start one to four days after the virus enters the body. This means one may already be infecting others before that person knows he or she is sick. In some cases, a person can be infected with the flu virus but develops no symptoms. During this time, that person may still spread the virus to others.