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Researchers make flu breakthrough

03 September 2012 09:51

Evidence flu can be caught before symptoms appear is mounting

Evidence flu can be caught before symptoms appear is mounting

New research suggests flu viruses may be transmitted before any symptoms appear. A study of ferrets carried out by scientists at Imperial College London supports previous studies showing viral particles carried in mucus droplets can be expelled into the air not only via coughing and sneezing but also as a result of normal breathing.

People who have seen holidays blighted by a bout of the flu will be interested in the findings, however those suffering other health problems too should still arrange pre-existing medical travel insurance. The study published in online journal PLoS ONE, is the first of its kind to explore non-symptomatic flu transmission in an animal. Ferrets with flu were put near healthy ferrets for short periods of time at various stages post-infection and even before the flu carriers began to display fever symptoms the virus was transmitted. The animals - which show similar symptoms to humans and are susceptible to similar virus strains - are often used in flu research.

Professor Wendy Barclay, lead researcher at Imperial College, said: "This result has important implications for pandemic planning strategies. It means that the spread of flu is very difficult to control, even with self-diagnosis and measures such as temperature screens at airports. It also means that doctors and nurses who don't get the flu jab are putting their patients at risk because they might pass on an infection when they don't know they're infected."