12 January 2011

Why Study Which Pathogens Are Air-Borne?

According to a media report ("How Much Distance Can Your Sneeze And Cough Cover?", TODAY, 11 January 2011), some scientists in Singapore are trying to find out how airborne transmission of flu viruses takes place, if at all.

By observing the spray of minute liquid droplets when a person coughs, sneezes, laughs or talks, they hope to formulate better guidelines for infection control.

Infection control teams need to know which pathogens, if any, are airborne and the relative significance of this route is compared to other routes, such as direct contact, according to team leader Mr Julian Tang, a virologist and consultant at the National University Hospital.

Is this study necessary?

It is common knowledge, and common sense, for a person who is sick to isolate himself to the extent possible or wear a face mask otherwise.

It is common knowledge, and common sense, for other people to avoid contact with sick people to the extent possible and wash their hands thoroughly with soap before touching their own mouths, eyes or noses, or eating.

Besides, unless the study proves that all pathogens are either airborne or not airborne, the general public will continue to adopt the same precautions as they do now because no one knows what pathogens are in the air when someone else coughs, sneezes, laughs or talks.

Why should we care?  Because the study costs $1.08 million and is funded by the National Medical Research Council of Singapore.

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