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Effective Measures Against A Possible Influenza Outbreak Identified By Scientists

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Effective Measures Against A Possible Influenza Outbreak Identified By Scientists

The Spanish flu pandemic killed over 50 million victims worldwide between 1918 and 1920. The influenza epidemic occurred after World War researchers believe that it had the same root as bird flu (H5N1). The victims were generally young people with a good health status, children and experts believe it was one of the worst pandemic in human history as it affected not only people with weakened immunity.

If a similar pandemic occurred today, scientists belive that vaccination might be helpful but vaccine production would not be hastened in time for a significant effect to be achieved. Hospitals would soon be overcrowded and many sick patients would need to be treated at home by family members.

Non-pharmaceutical interventions or NPIs would be very useful in that situation, containing the pandemic and spread of the H5N1 virus according to Richard Larson and Stan Finklestein, members of MIT's Engineering Systems Division who came out with a plan of preventing the H5N1 virus from spreading between people who come into close contact.

Their approach was to look into the home dynamics and come up with rather inexpensive methods of prevention, that common people could take in order to prevent infection and care for their family members in the same time.

Larson and Finklestein discovered that simple gestures such as hand washing, use of masks and temperature control, humidity and air circulation could have a major impact upon the chances to get infected. Their results were published in the December issue of Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness.

Transpolating their results and findings regarding the bird flu, these measures could also help prevent the transmission of regular seasonal flu, infection that takes the lives of about 30,000 U.S citizens each year.

The scientists were motivated by the growing fobia of devastating H5N1 strains that could be the source of a major outbreak in the future. Larson and Finklestein, have been focused on non-pharmaceutical interventions that could help prevent the spread of the disease. With their study they reviewed 40 studies that analyzed non-medicinal ways of preventing influenza and isolated the most effective methods that could reduce transmission.

Influenza virus can be transmitted very easily. The most common route of transmission of the infection is through tiny droplets of saliva eliminated by infected persons during breathing or coughing (Flugge droplets), droplets that can be worn away by air currents and inhaled by others. Scientists recommended the following methods of prevention:

  • Proper hand with antibacterial soap and alcohol based hand sanitizer for a minimum of 20 seconds after exiting a patient’s ward or room
  •  Covering the nose and mouth with a mask, though it has not been proven yet that common masks can actually block viruses they can prevent unconscious face touching with a hand that came into contact with infected surfaces.
  • Installing air filters can remove nearly 98 percent of virus particles.
  • Raising the air temperature and humidity can kill or at least disable virus particles.
  • Installing a UV lamp. Ultraviolet light kills viruses by genetic alteration.

Nothing we're proposing is controversial, Larson says. Our contribution is systemically going through the decades of scientific literature and picking out what we thought were exemplary pieces of work and putting them in an engineering-systems framework.