Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Can you catch the Flu from money?

With all the talk of what a horrible flu season we will have this year, we (at work) have done some research on ways you can get the flu and some ways to prevent it. And (surprise) the prevention methods are very simple. It will help keep the spread of the flu down, and hopefully stop it from being a pandemic if we can all do these things everyday.

First, an interesting article about catching the flu from money, something I come in contact with everyday.

To reduce the risk of catching the flu, wash your hands frequently and use tissues when you sneeze -- those are the recommendations from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But there's another way to protect yourself, even if it's not so good for the economy: Stop handling money.

It doesn't get talked about much, but paper currency -- the dollars, fives, 10s and 20s most people routinely touch every day -- can spread viruses from one person to another. So if you have contact with money that an infected individual has also handled, there's a possibility of catching the flu.

How likely is that? Despite the pervasiveness of cash in society, its role in transmitting illness has been the subject of surprisingly little study. But some recent research suggests that flu bugs can show some staying power when they land on one of the countless bank notes that change hands every day.

Generally speaking, scientists interviewed by SmartMoney estimate the lifetime of a plain flu virus deposited on money at an hour or so. But mix in some human nasal mucus, and the potential for the virus to hang on long enough to find a victim increases, according to one of the few scientific studies done on flu transmission through cash.

In a study conducted at Switzerland's Central Laboratory of Virology at the University Hospitals of Geneva, researchers tested to see what would happen when flu virus was placed on Swiss franc notes. In some of these tests, researchers placed flu virus mixed in with nasal secretions from children on bank notes and saw some unexpected results.

When protected by human mucus, the flu cells were much hardier, lasting up to 17 days on the franc notes. The virus that persisted for 17 days was a form of influenza A called H3N2. In an e-mail interview, Dr. Yves Thomas said samples of an influenza A strain called H1N1 also endured for quite a bit -- in some cases, up to 10 days. That bug was similar but not identical to the virus at the center of the current swine flu outbreak, which is considered a new strain of H1N1.

The research suggested that in the real world, where runny noses get wiped by hands that then handle money, flu viruses may have more persistence than previously thought. (Read the study "Survival of Influenza Virus on Banknotes" in the May 2008 issue of the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.)

To be sure, many kinds of frequently touched surfaces could temporarily harbor the flu virus. Broadly speaking, scientists consider the risk of transmission in this way to be low, particularly if hand washing and other hygiene measures are practiced, says Dr. Philip Tierno, the director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York University's Langone Medical Center and author of "The Secret Life of Germs."

How you'd catch it

Three things likely must happen for a flu virus to be transmitted from one person to another via paper money:
* First, a person who is infected with the flu must sneeze or cough onto the bill or blow his/her nose and leave remnants of mucus on the currency.
* Next, an uninfected person needs to touch the money while the virus is still present.Finally, that person needs to put his (or her) contaminated hand in his mouth or pick his nose, says Dr. Murray Grossan, an otolaryngologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Next are the preventions:

Swine Flu Prevention....
The only portals of entry are the nostrils and mouth/throat.. In a global epidemic of this nature, it's almost impossible to avoid coming into contact with H1N1 in spite of all precautions. Contact with H1N1 is not so much of a problem as proliferation is.

While you are still healthy and not showing any symptoms of H1N1 infection, in order to prevent proliferation, aggravation of symptoms and development of secondary infections, some very simple steps, not fully highlighted in most official communications, can be practiced (instead of focusing on how to sto ck N95 or Tamiflu):

1. Frequent hand-washing (well highlighted in all official communications).

2. "Hands-off-the-face" approach. Resist all temptations to touch any part of face (unless you want to eat, bathe or slap).

3. *Gargle twice a day with warm salt water (use Listerine if you don't trust salt). *H1N1 takes 2-3 days after initial infection in the throat/ nasal cavity to proliferate and show characteristic symptoms. Simple gargling prevents proliferation. In a way, gargling with salt water has the same effect on a healthy individual that Tamiflu has on an infected one.
Don't underestimate this simple, inexpensive and powerful preventative method.

4. Similar to 3 above, *clean your nostrils at least once every day with warm salt water . *Not everybody may be good at Jala Neti or Sutra Neti (very good Yoga asanas to clean nasal cavities), but *blowing the nose hard once a day and swabbing both nostrils with cotton buds dipped in warm salt water is very effective in bringing down viral population.* Neti pots and sinus rinse kits are available at the drug store and relatively inexpensiveS.under $15.

5. *Boost your natural immunity with foods that are rich in Vitamin C (Amla and other citrus fruits). *If you have to supplement with Vitamin C tablets, make sure that it also has Zinc to boost absorption.

6. *Drink as much of warm liquids (tea, coffee, etc) as you can. *Drinking warm liquids has the same effect as gargling, but in the reverse direction.
They wash off proliferating viruses from the throat into the stomach where they cannot survive, proliferate or do any harm.

Dr. Vinay Goyal is an MBBS,DRM,DNB (Intensivist and Thyroid specialist)


Talina said...

I was glad to read that last one. I've found hot chocolate to be one of the best ways to get fluid down my sore throat and I wondered if warm beverages were good for it. Thanks again for the movie loaners. Today was much better and more entertaining.

Lisa Louise said...

very educational lena! I got the oh so wonderful mist vaccine today, so yucky!

Audrey said...

Sounds like you'll have to stop picking your nose at work . . . unless you've washed your hands first, that is!!