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Dr. Jeffrey Shaman will lecture today on flu so I am preparing for that talk with this post. The basic question is — What’s the latest update on what we can do to protect ourselves and the public? This blog has proposed an abundance of preventions and cures. It is best to be prepared because the flu season will soon hit us again.

A list of standalone posts about flu from www.probaway.wordpress.com

  1. The original 1994 – Probaway – flu
  2. Cure the common cold with 102° voluntary fevers.
  3. Cure for the comon cold is six 102 degree fevers.
  4. My flu germs are doing better than I am.
  5. My flu germs are doing much better than I am.
  6. My treatment of today’s flu worked okay.
  7. A cure for the common cold using 105° F baths.
  8. Reducing the flu threat for everyone.
  9. Berkeley Avian Influenza Conference.
  10. A cure for the bird-flu ! ?
  11. Flu recommendations from the medicine men.
  12. I have cured the H1N1 flu – hurrah – maybe
  13. Temperature triggers biological responses.
  14. Prevent the common cold with capsaicin.
  15. Seasonal flu – infectivity, susceptibility, humidity, transmission, infections.

Each of those are standalone posts so they repeat the basic materials but each has a new observation.

Today, I am going to a lecture by Jeffrey Shaman. Assistant Professor, College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences Oregon State University. Here is a link to what I expect the lecture to be about: “Absolute Humidity and the Seasonality of Influenza

Some questions to consider asking:

  1. Does the infectivity vary with the total viral load of the sick person or the stage of the flu? Are the transmitted particles more infective on the 1st day, the 4th day or the 14th day of the sickness?
  2. Is the sneeze stage more dangerous than the snotty stage of a flu?
  3. How do you blend and balance the various factors – Number of contacts, their stage of infectivity, the duration of exposure, the susceptibility of the new victims (very young, adult, very old)?
  4. Many, if not most, infections are passed by direct contact with items touched by many people – like doorknobs in public places. What is being done to prevent those infections?
  5. It has been reported that lab mice transmit flu to other mice in separate cages dependent upon humidity. Do you have any update on that finding?
  6. Very old people in retirement homes are confined with sick people. Isn’t that a probable reason their rate of death is higher than average free living adults?
  7. Airplanes are another place where people are trapped together for extended periods so what is being done to prevent transmission of disease inside of airplanes?
  8. Vaccination is the best preventative a person can take to save themselves from flu but what new cures are there for those who do catch a flu?
  9. Tamiflu has been shown to be effective the first day or two of a flu but counter productive after a flu is peaking. People don’t go to the doctor until they are quite sick, on about the third day so why do doctors even prescribe Tamiflu when a person is sick but refuse to prescribe it for storage in a personal medicine cabinet so they can take it at first sigh of symptoms, when it would be effective.
  10. Craig Venter has claimed he will be able to fabricate flu vaccines in days rather than months. Have you hear anything about his progress.

The flus communicability is related to absolute humidity lecture.

This was a wonderful lecture and I suspect a very important one. Dr. Jeffrey Shaman has demonstrated a clear causal link between humidity and the transmission of flu germs between humans. One of his many demonstrated proofs was that flu incidence rose in the weeks following cold seasonal storms sweeping through the eastern United States. It was the dry air which permitted a few people having a flu to spread it effectively to many susceptible others when the air was particularly dry for a few days. He explained that dry air allowed the flu laden particles, of the right size, in a flu victims sneeze to aerosolized and remain in the air for an indefinite period of time. That gave these particles the time and opportunity to find a friendly landing place in people’s mucus membranes where they could multiply and infect the person. If that person hadn’t been exposed to that virus strain and was in a weakened physical condition they could develop a flu themselves. Lack of sunlight, as is inevitable in New England states in the winter, lowers the production of vitamin D which weakens those people’s immune systems and provides fertile location for a flu to become epidemic.

It has been demonstrated with guinea pigs that dry air permits the transmission of flu virus between spatially separated cages whereas humid air did not allow transmission. That was another easily testable proof that dry air is important in the transmission of flu. Other causes are direct contact with infected people and another is what he termed fomites which is the technical term for indirect contact with infectious agents transfered on surfaces like doorknobs and money. Another form of transmission is in the relatively large droplets which a sneezing person spits out but which usually fall immediately to the ground. Obviously, all of these methods of transmission can occur but Dr. Shaman has demonstrated that airborne virus, on dry days, is the main transmission method. The reason is that only airborne transmission is significantly different during a period of dry air and it is after a few days of dry air that pandemics have been shown to take off.

Sneeze with droplets

A sneeze which has been backlit to emphasize the droplets spewed

The larger droplets in the lower right of the photograph immediately descend to a surface and if a person touched that surface with their hands they could transfer the virus’ to their mucus membrane with their fingers. Or it would be possible if a person were directly in front of this sneeze to have a direct contact with the droplets coming directly into their eyes,  mouth or nose. But according to Shaman’s hypothesis it is the more vaporous material seen in the sneeze above which is the most dangerous because it volatilizes into dry air and can float around for a long period of time until it is inhaled by another person and infects them. When the humidity is high the particles do not volatilize as well and settle to the floor which lessens their transmissiblity to mucus membranes.

After the lecture I spoke to Dr Shaman about an easily conducted large scale human test. Find two identical large buildings with large numbers of identical populations within them and have the janitor set the humidities within the buildings to different settings. One would be kept at a humidity of say 80% and the other at say 20% and then observe if there was a different rate of flu in the buildings over the following weeks. The World Trade Center twin towers would have made a perfect test tube for this experiment. Perhaps there are other double buildings in the New England area where there are dry winter storms in which these experiments could be carried out.

The best way to avoid the flu is get your shots but now we know to be particularly careful of sneezes during the dry spell after a cold winter storm pays our locality a visit.