Feb. 02 2018

Respiratory Viruses Easily Spread at Tourist Attraction

A number of visitors to a New York City amusement park were found to have common respiratory viruses, according to a new study conducted by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. The results showed that 7 percent of people visiting this attraction tested positive for two types of respiratory virus. Findings were published online in The Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Among those shedding virus, over 71 percent of the screened tourists were detected to have rhinovirus, and 21 percent tested positive for coronavirus. This study’s sampling also detected influenza, respiratory syncytial virus, and para-influenza in these tourists. 

Jeffrey Shaman, PhD, associate professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health, and colleagues said their findings “indicate that significant levels of asymptomatic respiratory viral shedding exist during summer among the ambulatory population.” Viral shedding refers to the expulsion and release of virus progeny following successful reproduction during a host-cell infection. 

To determine rates of both symptomatic and asymptomatic infection among ambulatory adults, the researchers collected nasopharyngeal swabs, demographics, and survey information from 1,477 adult visitors during April-July 2016. The population sampled were persons 18 and over, and most under 65, which mainly excluded age groups most vulnerable to respiratory infections.  

More than 200 viruses can cause the common cold, and infections can spread from person to person through the air and close personal contact. Rhinovirus is the most common type of virus that causes colds, reports the CDC. “These respiratory viruses are everywhere,” said Shaman.

“The critical unanswered question is whether an asymptomatic infection is as contagious as a symptomatic infection. If they are just as contagious, then effective control of the spread these viruses—for example, the next pandemicis much more challenging,” noted Shaman.

Co-authors are Haruka Morita, Ruthie Birger, Mary Boyle, Devon Comito, Benjamin Lane, Chanel Ligon, and Hannah Smith, all of the Mailman School of Public Health; and Rob Desalle and Paul Planet at the American Museum of Natural History.