How Contagious Is A Flu Patient?

Feb 6, 2013

Flu shot
Credit samantha celera, via Flickr, Creative Commons

According to new research out of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, some people who suffer from the flu emit far greater amounts of the virus than others.  A small pilot study found 5 out of 61 patients who tested positive for flu released 32 times more of the virus in air samples taken during routine care. 

Lead author Werner Bischoff, assistant professor of infectious diseases at Wake Forest Baptist, says the study also determined small flu particles can travel further than 6 feet and might be able to float in the air for hours.

“We studied only emissions - the release of flu from an infected patient,” he said. “We didn't look at transmission. So we don't actually know if the particles containing flu virus can make someone sick or infect them if they're exposed to these virus particles.”

Bischoff says it may be difficult to get enough subjects for such a study.  Research would depend on recruiting non-vaccinated volunteers who have no other health complications.