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The risks of a kiss or a handshake

18th February 2009

Professor John Oxford, Virologist at Queen Mary, University of London, is examining how flu spreads.

influenzaQ

Experts still believe the threat of a flu pandemic exists, despite public fear appearing to have passed and that’s why we want to know more about how people pass the flu virus to each other.

The UK has stockpiles of antivirals and pre-pandemic vaccine as well as an action plan in the event of an outbreak of avian influenza H5N1, which is claiming lies on a weekly basis in China, Vietnam and Indonesia.

When this virus arrives on our doorstep, what do we do, and what is safe and what is risky behaviour?

When we cough or sneeze, what happens to the virus: do droplets settle on a surface or become airborne?

Face masks could block the droplets, but if we can be sure that most spread is by droplet, then social distancing is relevant.

Social customs such as kissing could be temporarily postponed, but should people still sleep with a flu carrier?

My research group is now trying to answer these questions having been given the go-ahead to infect healthy volunteers with influenza.

The initial dozen could hold the key, as they socialise with their friends. There will be no kissing and no cohabitation but we do expect the virus to spread.

Once it has, a further1500 volunteers will be recruited and split into sub-groups - some protected by masks, others held apart, some allowed to sneeze and cough into faces – and we’ll see what happens.

 

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