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February 16, 2013
The H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak is enough to make anyone want to keep a distance from the coughs and sneezes of others. But an arm’s length may not be enough.

The conventional wisdom is that flu is spread largely through close contact with others and by touching contaminated surfaces.

A recent study by scientists at the Wake Forest School of Medicine, however, shows that people infected with the flu can send virus particles shooting into the air six feet away, farther than previously thought.

The researchers looked at 94 people admitted to the hospital with flu-like illness.

As part of the examination process, researchers put each patient in a room and then collected air samples, looking for infectious particles.

Of the 61 patients who tested positive for flu, 26 released viruses particles in the air.

One out of five were considered highly infectious, releasing up to 32 times more virus on average than the others. These were also the patients with the highest viral loads and the worst symptoms.

A person within a range of six feet, the team found, “could be exposed to infectious doses of influenza virus, primarily in small-particle aerosols.” The New York Times