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How far can a cough spread germs? Seeing is believing.

May 5th, 2008

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“Puff Daddy” coughs fluorescent particles that represent germs.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, are live demonstrations and videos worth even more in getting across a message? That’s what researchers at the University of Louisville and University Hospital wondered when they decided to study use of an unusual visual aid to show how disease is spread.

The study, led by Ruth Carrico of UofL’s School of Public Health and Information Sciences, used a simulated-patient robot nicknamed “Puff Daddy” that is programmed to cough. The cough releases thousands of fluorescent particles that represent germs and gives a graphic visual demonstration of how far germs can spread.

Determining the distance germs can spread really wasn’t the goal, Carrico said, although researchers did see that “small particles stay afloat in the air and move with the air current, much like the organisms that cause tuberculosis, measles, and perhaps avian influenza in the very ill patient.”

What the researchers really wanted to know was whether emergency department nurses who saw the demonstration later would use personal protective equipment more often than those who received only standard classroom training.

The answer was, “Yes.” The nurses “Puff Daddy” trained were significantly more likely to use personal protective equipment, such as masks, when they cared for patients who showed respiratory symptoms.

“Since we cannot ordinarily see (cough) particles, we tend to minimize the impact on ourselves and the environment,” Carrico said. “The visual demonstration really seemed to make an impact on providers that caused them to change their behavior.

“Seeing is believing,” she said.

The researchers’ demonstration video is getting play beyond their study. Both the entire training video and a Discovery Channel news video of the demonstration are on YouTube. There have been more than 1,500 hits for the complete video and more than 2,600 hits for the Discovery Channel video.

The paper that resulted from the study originally was published in the February 2007 issue of American Journal of Infection Control. In April, it was named as one of the 10 most influential papers for 2007 in the field of health care epidemiology at the annual meeting of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America.

Related Links
Discover Channel YouTube cough simulation video
Cough simulation training video

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