Ways To Fight Flu

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The flu epidemic from 1918 to 1920 brought catastrophe to world, as it took 50 to 100 million lives. In the present day society, vaccine may be of help in the event of a possible outbreak. However, vaccine production may not cope with the influx in demand to significantly respond to the need. Furthermore, hospitals may not be able to accommodate the population of patients. Anticipating this possibility, Richard Larson and Stan Finkelstein (members of MIT’s Engineering Systems Division) expressed the crucial role of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) in such situations to prevent the spread of infection.

The researchers further identified ways to avoid the spread of flu among family members and those living in close proximities. According to Larson, they looked into the dynamics of the home and surveyed if there are inexpensive yet reasonable ways that people can do to take care of their loved ones, at the same time, minimize the risk of infection. Their findings were published by the American Medical Association in the December issue of Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness.

The simple steps they identified helpful in reducing the risk of flu infection include thorough handwashing, wearing masks and controlling temperature, humidity and air circulation. These measures were proven useful in the fight against seasonal flu in the US.

The study team’s motivation emanates from the disturbing flu strains like H5N1. For the past 5 years, they focused on NPI’s, as they studied influenza. They re-examined 40 studies with regard to their effectiveness for NPI’s. They discovered effective approaches to reduce flu virus transmission. The particles can be spread through direct contact with another person, touching surfaces previously touched by an infected person, inhalation or airborne.

The team enumerated steps that can fight virus transmission. First is thorough handwashing, using soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer for 20-30 seconds. The second way is wearing a mask. Finkelstein said that if a healthy person, wearing a mask, enters a sickroom and touches infected surfaces, the mask makes it difficult to touch his/her own nose and mouth. The third approach is by installing air filters, like HEPA filters, which can remove 98% of virus particles. Portable air purifiers with both UV lamps and HEPA filters can be very effective and cost $180 -$370. Fourth way is by controlling temperature and humidity, since viruses can be killed or inactivated by high humidity and temperature levels.

The researchers cited that the rate of transmission can be decreased by factors like minimizing the number of people having contact with the sick person and following the steps previously stated. Moreover, they are aware that the cost of these steps varies; nonetheless, it is way better than doing nothing.

Furthermore, Finkelstein and Larson will meet with the CDC Officials in February for the presentation of their findings. To encourage the CDC to add these strategies to the official list of recommendations to fight influenza is their objective. They believe that the study is a good investment in reducing the risk of infection. They further hope that the CDC will look into this and make this part of the portfolio in educating the public.




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