Sick Teenager with Handkerchief at the School Desk on the White Background

Researchers at the University of Maryland are checking into dorm life to study how influenza spreads, according to an article on the  NBC News website.

When a student comes in contact with a flu patient, Dr. Donald Milton and colleagues will watch her and test her to see if and when she comes down with flu herself.

The researchers are conducting tests that will help identify the route of transmission — whether people get infected by large droplets of mucus or saliva that carry flu virus into their nasal passages, whether they pick up the virus on their fingers from droplets that have fallen onto surfaces such as desks, or whether they breathe in the virus on tiny, airborne particles, the article said.

The U.S. currently is suffering through one of the most severe flu seasons in recent years. Understanding how and when influenza spreads can help doctors understand and, perhaps, better control the annual flu epidemic.

College residence halls are perfect breeding ground for respiratory viruses such as flu according to the researchers.

“You’re sharing the same air in small rooms,” said Dr. Barbara Albert, head clinician helping oversee the study. “They may not even know they’ve been in contact with somebody else.”

Earlier this year,  Milton’s research showed that flu virus can remain suspended in the even when infected people are breathing normally.

“We are all breathing out potentially infectious viruses,” said Stefanos Koutsoukos, a biochemistry major helping with the experiment.

The researchers are recruiting patients with flu  to use Milton’s Gesundheit 2 “sneeze machine” to measure flu virus they are emitting. The students sit with their faces in the cone-shaped collection device to see what they send out with each breath.

The students are asked about stress, physical activity and sleep. “We are trying to get a broad picture of susceptibility,” Milton said.
The team has a grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop various tests for infection.

Read the full article.