So you're sitting in your cubicle being a productive employee, but all you can hear is the sound of one of your office mates hacking and sneezing. It seems every workplace has its own Typhoid Mary -- that person who lives ahead of the curve on colds. A few years ago, there wasn't much you could do to avoid catching that cold if it was airborne, but things are slowly improving.
First let's look at what you might catch just by breathing the same air as that person. A whole host of diseases is spread via airborne transmission, including influenza, pneumonia, chicken pox, whooping cough, smallpox, tuberculosis, polio and measles. And for many years there have been worries that terrorists could exploit airborne transmission; anthrax, for example, can be released into the atmosphere and inhaled. Some airborne diseases, such as polio and smallpox, may not seem like pressing health threats today, but experts worry that the possibility of airborne transmission could cause epidemic-level infections in the future. The others are more immediately pressing; whooping cough and influenza can put you on bed rest for many days and drain your wallet with medical visits and prescriptions. And as far as productivity goes, it's estimated that every person with the flu loses at least a couple days of work. And even when you're trying to work while infected with the flu, your productivity is hovering below 50 percent [source: Workplace Vitality]. Stronger diseases like pneumonia will have a harsher effect.
So how can you avoid catching an airborne disease if you're sitting in the same office as an infected person? One of the most effective factors in controlling airborne diseases lies in controlling airflow and filtration. If your workplace's HVAC system draws some fresh air from the outdoors and exhausts old air, you're already in good shape. As for the air that gets recirculated, there are advanced filters and ultraviolet germicidal irradiation systems that can clean your air of many microbes that transmit disease [source: American Institute of Biological Sciences]. If your office doesn't have any of these systems in place, you might be able to convince your boss to buy one after showing her a calculation of workdays and productivity lost to influenza alone [source: Workplace Vitality]. Over the course of a few years -- assuming that the reduction of microbes along with airborne mold, pollen, and other contaminants creates a healthier workplace -- the costs will get outweighed by the benefits.
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