Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Flu Stairwell

The rapid spread of flu in the United States at the end of August and beginning of September and its rapid falloff since strongly suggest the role of stairwells, and specifically handrails, in spreading flu. This pattern fits only the busiest stairwells, though, the kind found between classes in most high schools in the United States. In a busy stairwell, a virus can travel from one person’s hand to a handrail, and from there to multiple other people’s hands within a span of a few seconds — just the kind of scenario that would account for the explosive spread of flu that occurred in the first weeks of school this fall.

Other hand-contact surfaces are surely also important, but it’s hard to think of one in a school setting that has such a large surface and such immediacy of contact as a handrail. I hesitate to suggest walking up and down stairs without touching the handrail, as a fall down a staircase can have health consequence even more serious than flu. Yet if the handrail is the key point of contact for flu, there has to be some kind of solution that will make this a less viable means of transmission for the flu virus.