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Doctors Weigh Impact of Inaugural Crowds On Flu Outbreak

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Health officials downplay the danger of transmission in Inauguration Day crowds, but recommend diligent hand-washing.
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Health officials downplay the danger of transmission in Inauguration Day crowds, but recommend diligent hand-washing.

As next week's presidential inauguration draws closer, local health professionals are assessing the potential impact of the large crowds of people from around the country descending on Washington in the midst of flu season.

D.C. health officials say the flu problem in the region has not yet reached epidemic proportions, but with hundreds of thousands of visitors expected in town for the inaugural, could the sheer volume of people carrying the infection change the game?

"I don't anticipate it impacting the flu situation too much," says Dr. Bruno Petnore, a physician with the George Washington University Medical Hospital.

Dr. Petnore says although the number of people in the area carrying the virus will rise,  a significant increase in the transmission of the disease is questionable and dependant on human contact, not proximity.

"The flu does not jump 20-feet; there usually has to be some form of contact," Petnore says. "Yes if somebody is standing half a foot away from you and sneezes right in your face, that could represent the transmission of the virus if that person has the flu."   

That said, Dr.Petnore says if you plan to attend the inauguration, keep in mind that one of the most important rules to avoid catching the flu still applies.

"Regular hand washing is going to be important, regardless of how many people are here with the virus," Petnore says. "Also, folks who are coming should consider bringing hand disinfectant, which is a good practice anytime."

For the sake of all in attendance, anybody with flu symptoms is urged to stay home

if you have flu like symptoms we would want to ask you to consider not coming. If you haven't caught the flu, most health officials urge you to get vaccinated if you plan to attend the inaugural.

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