You're breathing a potentially dangerous substance
December 24, 2015 12:11 AM   Subscribe

Writer Michael Rosenwald called on Steven Welty to identify a strange smell in his home. Welty knows a lot about how air moves, and he knows about the stuff in moving air that can make us sick and die. From Popular Science:

The initial outbreak at the Hong Kong hotel was bad, but the most chilling incident occurred in an apartment complex called the Amoy Gardens. There, a single man with really bad diarrhea infected 321 people, killing more than 40. Scarier still, he did it from the solitude of his own bathroom. Welty and other airborne disease specialists have pointed to either the building’s plumbing or fan system (or both) as spreading virus-laced droplets through the air, infecting unwitting neighbors who breathed the stuff as it crept through open windows on a beautiful Hong Kong night. A New England Journal of Medicine paper in 2004 pointed out, “The SARS epidemic provides an opportunity for the critical reevaluation of the aerosol transmission of communicable respiratory diseases.”
posted by bryon (10 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I wish I could read it, but Popular Science hates Australians.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:25 AM on December 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Cached version for the geographically affected.
posted by Thella at 2:38 AM on December 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

Welty told me that government scientists in the 1960s used coxsackie virus on prisoners to study airborne disease transmission.

Experiments which are often cited in the medical ethics literature as an egregious violation of human rights comparable to Tuskeegee.
posted by TedW at 3:22 AM on December 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

Once when this sort of topic came up on AskMe, it set me off on this little rant: "Every time I look into this, I'm a bit surprised by how little seems to be known about actual transmission of actual germs in real life. You get a lot about transmission via X is possible or Y type of germ can live up to Z hours on Q surface, and so on. But little about, which chain of transmission is, in real life, more or less likely to actually cause infection. "

This article explains some of the why that is true--did the medical establishment really lose their collective minds about disease transmission just because antibiotics came along? That seems a bit crazy, especially since we all know there are a number of transmissible diseases that antibiotics never touched.

These folks seem truly interested in studying that entire chain of transmission. Pretty interesting stuff.
posted by flug at 6:48 AM on December 24, 2015

I wish I could read it, but Popular Science hates Australians.

Just flip your computer over and it won't know you are down-under.
posted by srboisvert at 6:52 AM on December 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

Does anyone know how much the masks that people wear in China and Japan (are they worn elsewhere in Asia?) help decrease the transmission of disease? I remember asking about it and being told that in part it was a way to, in effect, humble brag, showing how conscientious you were being about being sick.
posted by Hactar at 7:00 AM on December 24, 2015

I wish I could read it, but Popular Science hates Australians.
It's OK, they also hate science and the populace in general.
posted by Wolfdog at 7:21 AM on December 24, 2015 [6 favorites]

It's strange that they don't mention Legionnaires' disease. It's the big airborne illnesses.
posted by srboisvert at 7:49 AM on December 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's strange that they don't mention Legionnaires' disease. It's the big airborne illnesses.

It's not technically airborne at all, actually. It's waterborne. You get it from inhaling aerosolized water.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:00 PM on December 24, 2015

Popular Science works for me (Melbourne), as long as I accept that redirects don't. Unfortunately, in paging through the site I lost several hours of my afternon down the rabbit-hole of links at the bottom of each page, including such discoveries as that Earth could be among the first 8% of life-bearing planets in this universe. Wait, what were we talking about in this FPP again?

Prepare for a lot more craziness in the next few years as antibiotic resistance spreads. Masks and gloves in the workplace. Possible resistance to shared self-driving cars (what if the last person sneezed?).
posted by Autumn Leaf at 11:34 PM on December 24, 2015

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