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UMD Flu Study Tracks Infection as Influenza Peaks in Maryland

January 8, 2013
Contacts: 

Kelly Blake (301) 405-9418

Donald Milton, M.D., Dr.P.H.COLLEGE PARK, Md. - This year’s flu season started sooner, is hitting harder and is more widespread than usual. Health officials say that Maryland is one of several states on track to have one of the worst influenza seasons in recent years, although flu is notoriously hard to predict.

Donald Milton, M.D., Dr.P.H., is leading a study to track flu infection and modes of transmission at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. His research team is finding that many study participants coming in with flu recently are infected with more than one virus strain.

“This may be an important factor driving the high attack rate right now,” he explains. Dr. Milton is an expert in airborne infection transmission who directs the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health. “Co-infection with more than one virus may make both of the viruses more contagious than either would be alone.”

Also, the illness’ intensity may be due to the type of influenza. The most prevalent strain this year, influenza A (H3N2), is causing more severe symptoms than influenza B alone, but many people have simultaneous influenza A and B infections or a combination of influenza B and another virus called respiratory syncytial virus.

Gesundheit IIMilton’s “Got Flu?” team has been tracking and reporting the incidence of influenza-like illness on its website and to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene since October. This is the first time that influenza surveillance has been done on the College Park campus, though participants also are being recruited from the surrounding areas.

“People might be surprised to learn that we don’t know for sure how flu spreads,” says Milton. “In addition, to encourage vaccination, preventing the spread of flu requires that we better understand how the virus travels and infects people.”

Researchers take nose and throat swabs from flu sufferers and gather samples of their exhaled breath using a special machine called the Gesundheit II (see photo). It captures the virus aerosols from breath, coughs and sneezes and can determine whether there’s more virus shed in large droplet sprays or in the tiny airborne particles.

You Can Help Stop Flu: Participate in the "Got Flu?" Study
If you are 10 years or older, have a fever and sore throat or cough (whether or not you had the flu vaccine), you can come in to the University of Maryland School of Public Health Clinical Research Facility to give a nasal swab sample and be paid $20 for your time, and potentially be eligible to give breath samples in the Gesundheit II for an additional $80 compensation. You may even be retested over three days and compensated up to $300 for coming to campus and giving samples while you have the flu. Call 424-2GOTFLU (424-246-8358), email gotflu@umd.edu, or contact Milton's team through www.gotflu.org.

 

Watch the WUSA-TV report on Dr. Milton's study: