BALTIMORE (WJZ)—A new study could shed some light on how the flu virus is spread. The doctor leading the groundbreaking research has ties to Maryland.

Gigi Barnett has more.

As doctors across the nation reported epidemic level flu cases back in December and January, a new study released on Thursday found that many people are more likely to get the illness through tiny, airborne droplets of the virus.

But how is it that the small flu particles could end up sending so many more people to emergency rooms?

“There’s a lot more of these droplets than we had previously suspected that contain the virus,” said Dr. Donald Milton, Maryland School of Public Health.

Milton led the groundbreaking research.

WJZ talked with him in the United Kingdom over Skype. His team learned that when a flu patient wears a surgical mask, the release of the virus into the air is greatly reduced.

It’s a recommendation the Centers for Disease Control made a few years ago to protect health workers from sick patients. But Milton says the practice just hasn’t caught on.

“This is common in some other cultures that people do this. And they consider it impolite that you are sick and coughing and not wearing a surgical mask. Things change, and this may be a change that’s coming our way,” Milton said.

Doctors initially thought that the flu spread mostly through direct or indirect contact, like doorknobs and keyboards. But now Milton’s study even changes the way people protect themselves from the flu.

This winter, Milton recruited more than 100 patients at the University of Maryland to study the disease. His study is featured in the journal, “PLOS Pathogens.”

Milton says the airborne flu droplets contain nearly nine times more flu virus than the larger droplets of flu that may be found on doorknobs or keyboards.


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