Health & wellness

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Patients can spread flu during checkups

A cough or sneeze by a flu patient may be enough to spread the virus to people standing up to 6 feet away, farther than previously shown, according to a study that highlights the risk to health care workers.

Researchers at Wake Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina looked at 94 patients with flu-like symptoms who had visited the emergency room or a clinic at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center for a checkup during the 2010-2011 flu season. The researchers swabbed the noses of the participants and took air samples from 1, 3, and 6 feet away. They also counted the number of coughs and sneezes and had patients fill out a survey about their symptoms.

Of the 65 percent of the participants who tested positive for the flu, 43 percent emitted small air particles containing the virus into the air, potentially putting health providers at risk, especially those who were unvaccinated. Patients with more severe cases of the flu were more likely to emit the virus.


Direct contact with large air particles containing the flu virus has been shown to transmit the flu. In this study, although concentrations of the virus decreased with distance, small particles containing the virus were still prevalent up to 6 feet away, spreading farther than large particles.

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BOTTOM LINE: A cough or sneeze by a flu patient may be enough to spread the virus to someone standing up to 6 feet away.

CAUTIONS: The study did not look at whether exposure to the virus found in the air particles transmitted the flu to others.

WHERE TO FIND IT: Journal of Infectious Diseases, Jan. 31

Study investigates soldiers’ sleep issues

Active duty soldiers who have sleep disorders are more likely to suffer from battle-related, chronic medical conditions, according to a study at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash. Researchers looked at medical records and sleep test results of more than 700 US Army, Navy, and Air Force personnel, a majority of whom had been in combat. They found that 85 percent had a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea and insomnia. In a survey, 41 percent of the participants reported sleeping for five hours or less.


More than half of those who had a sleep disorder also suffered from one or more chronic conditions such as posttraumatic stress disorder, mild traumatic brain injury, anxiety, depression, or chronic pain. That was a higher rate than among people without a sleep disorder.

The results suggest that emphasis on better sleeping habits among the military may prevent some battle-related chronic conditions, the researchers wrote.

BOTTOM LINE: Sleep disorders may be putting active duty soldiers at risk for accidents in the field as well as battle-related chronic medical conditions.

CAUTIONS: The study didn’t show a cause-and-effect relationship between sleep disorders and combat-related conditions. The participants were from one installation so the results may not represent military personnel broadly.

WHERE TO FIND IT: Sleep, February issue