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July 18, 1980

How to contain respiratory syncytial virus

JAMA. 1980;244(3):225-228. doi:10.1001/jama.1980.03310030007004

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For nearly 25 years respiratory syncytial virus has been known to cause outbreaks of acute, occasionally fatal respiratory infection in humans. Less clear is how this paramyxovirus spreads.

The two most popular hypotheses are transmission by direct contact or airborne spread or both. Newly reported research supports the first idea and modifies the second.

Caroline B. Hall, MD, associate professor of pediatrics and medicine, University of Rochester Medical Center, reports that this virus seems to be spread by "self-inoculation of the eyes or nose after touching contaminated surfaces" or by aerosols from coughing, sneezing, or perhaps simply exhaling. However, during airborne spread, the virus apparently requires a droplet so large that it rarely travels beyond 180 cm.

Hall and R. Gordon Douglas, Jr, MD, professor of medicine at the university and head of the Division of Infectious Diseases, presented a report on the subject at a joint meeting of the