Influenza-containing small-particle aerosols can travel up to 6 feet from the patient’s head during routine non-aerosol-generating activities, according to study results in The Journal of Infectious Diseases.

This information may warrant a re-evaluation of the current prevention strategies for healthcare providers responsible for the routine patient care of these individuals, the authors concluded.

For the research, investigators screened 94 patients for flu-like symptoms. All participants were either admitted to the emergency department or an inpatient care unit; nasopharyngeal swabs were collected from each. Air samples were also collected, from within 1 foot, 3 feet, and 6 feet of patients.

No aerosol-generating procedures—such as bronchoscopy, sputum induction, intubation, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation—were conducted while air sampling took place.

They discovered the majority of influenza virus in the air samples analyzed was found in small particles during non-aerosol-generating activities up to a 6-foot distance from the patient’s head, and that concentrations of virus decreased with distance.

Current preventative precautions, according to the authors, recommend that providers wear a non-fitted facemask during routine, non-aerosol-generating patient care. These findings create concern that fitted facemasks will not provide adequate protection, according to the authors.

“Our study offers new evidence of the natural emission of influenza and may provide a better understanding of how to best protect health care providers during routine care activities,” the authors wrote, noting that additional studies are required.