Experts suggest hand washing and social distancing could be used to slow the spread of lung infections

A summary of an opinion article published in CHEST

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many interventions to slow the spread of the virus. These includes frequent hand-washing, physical distancing and wearing face coverings in indoor public spaces.

In a new opinion article, published in the journal CHEST, respiratory experts discuss how these interventions could be used to reduce the spread of other respiratory illnesses in the future.


The COVID-19 pandemic has caused suffering across the world, both directly with the number of deaths and indirectly with the resulting job losses and financial downturn. However, there are a number of respiratory diseases that occur each year which also result in a high number of deaths, loss of productivity in workplaces and sickness days for many. The researchers use a number of statistics to demonstrate this:

  • Viral pneumonia causes nearly 70,000 deaths per year in the USA
  • Viral infections also cause approximately 2 in 5 chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) exacerbations, which often result in a patient needing hospital treatment
  • Estimates suggest that 40,000 deaths a year are caused by flu in the USA
What do the researchers suggest?

The authors of this article are calling for simple interventions, that have become the norm during the COVID-19 pandemic, to be used each year to help improve the negative impact of other respiratory illnesses. They do not advocate the same scale of interventions seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as shutting businesses and schools, but believe that simple individual measures could help.

They suggest that people with an active lung infection (such as a common cold), could physically distance themselves from others, wear face coverings indoors and on public transport, and frequently use hand sanitisers and hand washing.  The authors suggest that these measures could slow the spread of these kinds of viruses and reduce the impact on society.

Read the original research paper

Title: Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste