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Infection risk in cars: catching more than a lift

25 June, 2012

Travelling in a car with a person infected with the flu can mean your chance of getting sick is up to 99.9 per cent, a study from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) shows.

Professor Lidia Morawska, director of QUT's International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health, said the risk of transmitting influenza over a 90-minute car trip with someone ill could be higher than travelling on a Boeing 747 for 17 hours with an infected person.

The study, which compared 1989 and 2005 models of passenger cars, estimated the risk ranged from 59 per cent to 99.9 per cent for a 90-minute car trip when air was recirculated in newer, more air-tight vehicles.

"This area hadn't been studied before and the results have implications for preventing in-car transmission of other illnesses spread by airborne particles," Professor Morawska said.

"Airborne transmission is now strongly suspected of playing a significant role in the spread of influenza indoors under certain conditions including in newer cars and in other modes of transportation.

"There are a lot of unknowns associated with how infections spread through the air. For example, are you more likely to catch the flu at home or work?"

'Infection spread: will breathing kill you?' will be among issues debated at the 10th International Healthy Buildings Conference, from July 8 to 12, at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre.

QUT is hosting the four-day event which will bring world-leading experts from across Australia and internationally to examine major issues facing building, environmental and health professionals.

Two other symposiums at the conference are: 'Other balance of power: energy conservation versus indoor environmental quality'; and 'Race against time: population, urban growth and miracles of technology'.

Major keynote speakers include Professor Clive Beggs, leader of the Bradford Infection Group at the University of Bradford in the UK, who will chair a panel on controlling the transmission of emerging pathogens in hospitals, offices and in transport, as well as bio-terrorism.

Professor Morawska, who is also a member of QUT's Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, said poorly-designed buildings contributed to the spread of illnesses from the common cold to dangerous viruses such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

"There is still much work to be done to be able to quantify all of the factors that contribute to the spread of infection indoors," she said.

"If the design of buildings were modified to focus on reducing infection spread people would contract fewer colds and flu. This would have a huge impact on people's quality of life and benefit the economy as well.

"When it comes to emergency responses to exotic diseases, we need to look at the role of buildings in preventing or mitigating the spread of pathogens such as SARS or avian influenza."
 

Source: Queensland University of Technology (QUT)

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