Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering News

Flu Study Conducted by UMD Researchers Making Headlines

Flu Study Conducted by UMD Researchers Making Headlines

Dr. Donald Milton (left) and a study participant in the Gesundheit II machine, which is used to capture and analyze influenza virus in exhaled breath. Photo provided by the Baltimore Sun.
Dr. Donald Milton (left) and a study participant in the Gesundheit II machine, which is used to capture and analyze influenza virus in exhaled breath. Photo provided by the Baltimore Sun.

Researchers at the University of Maryland (UMD) have been studying ‘shedding’ of influenza, in an effort to pinpoint exactly how this virus spreads so quickly. Apparently, infected people can pass the virus on to others simply by breathing on them – no coughing or sneezing necessary.

This study, entitled “Infectious virus in exhaled breath of symptomatic seasonal influenza cases from a community college,” highlights the potency of airborne transmission because of the high number of virus particles found in the exhaled breath of 355 test subjects. 

“People with flu generate infectious aerosols - tiny droplets that stay suspended in the air for a long time - even when they are not coughing, and especially during the first days of illness. So when someone is coming down with influenza, they should go home and not remain in the workplace and infect others,” Dr. Donald Milton, professor of environmental health at the University of Maryland, explained. 

Milton’s research team, which includes ChBE graduate student, Jing Yan, and former ChBE Chair, Sheryl Ehrman, “captured and characterized influenza virus in exhaled breath from 142 confirmed cases of people with influenza during natural breathing, prompted speech, spontaneous coughing, and sneezing, and assessed the infectivity of naturally occurring influenza aerosols.”

“The study findings suggest that keeping surfaces clean, washing our hands all the time, and avoiding people who are coughing does not provide complete protection from getting the flu,” said Dr. Ehrman, currently Dean of the College of Engineering at San José State University. “Staying home and out of public spaces could make a difference in the spread of the influenza virus.” 

This study – Characterizing And Tracking College Health (CATCH) the Virus – will be conducted through the end of the Spring 2018 semseter.  To learn more about this study, or to participate, visit: https://catch.umd.edu

The flu report for the week of January 13th, 2018, was rated ‘high’ in intensity and reportedly widespread, according to the State of Maryland Department of Health - something to be aware of when venturing out into public areas this season.

For additional information:

J. Yan, M. Grantham, J. Pantelic, P.J. Bueno de Mesquita, B. Albert, F. Liu, S. Ehrman, D. Milton, EMIT Consortium. Infectious virus in exhaled breath of symptomatic seasonal influenza cases from a community college. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 15Dec2017.  DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1716561115.

Related research:

J. Yan, M. Grantham, J. Pantelic, P.J. Bueno de Mesquita, B. Albert, F. Liu, S. Ehrman, D. Milton, EMIT Consortium. Nasal and aerosol shedding of infectious influenza virus – a community based study. bioRxiv, Sept2017.  DOI: 10.1101/194985.

January 25, 2018


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