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Lancet Infect Dis. 2007 Apr;7(4):257-65.

Transmission of influenza A in human beings.

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Infection Prevention and Control Unit, University Health Network, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


Planning for the next influenza pandemic is occurring at many levels throughout the world, spurred on by the recent spread of H5N1 avian influenza in Asia, Europe, and Africa. Central to these planning efforts in the health-care sector are strategies to minimise the transmission of influenza to health-care workers and patients. The infection control precautions necessary to prevent airborne, droplet, and contact transmission are quite different and will need to be decided on and planned before a pandemic occurs. Despite vast clinical experience in human beings, there continues to be much debate about how influenza is transmitted. We have done a systematic review of the English language experimental and epidemiological literature on this subject to better inform infection control planning efforts. We have found that the existing data are limited with respect to the identification of specific modes of transmission in the natural setting. However, we are able to conclude that transmission occurs at close range rather than over long distances, suggesting that airborne transmission, as traditionally defined, is unlikely to be of significance in most clinical settings. Further research is required to better define conditions under which the influenza virus may transmit via the airborne route.

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