GAINESVILLE (FOX 13) - This past flu season was one of the worst in nearly a decade. The virus killed 160 children in a national epidemic and thousands more were hospitalized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
New technology under development at the University of Florida in Gainesville could change future flu seasons by detecting the virus faster.
Dr. Chang-Yu Wu and a team of researchers have developed a first-of-its-kind air sampler to detect the tiny influenza virus in the air in public spaces.
The large black box sounds similar to a quiet vacuum when it's turned on. The device sucks in frequent air samples.
Water vapors then attach to tiny virus particles found in the air, making the virus bigger and easier to detect.
The air samples can determine if the flu or other small viruses, such as measles, are floating around in public places like an airport.
"Virus aerosol is responsible for a lot of diseases," said Dr. Wu.
The air sampler would alert public officials to the presence of the virus, who could then alert to public to the risk.
Wu said by informing people, they are able to take precautions to prevent the flu virus from spreading to them. Spotting viruses early could mean the difference between a small outbreak and a pandemic.
"I envision in the future, we can make more portable, smaller ones," said Dr. Wu.
He sees the device one day expanding to the battlefield. Dr. Wu said the air sampler could be used to detect bio-terrorism threats and alerting U.S. soldiers on the front line to the danger.
Dr. Wu has tested the air sampler in student centers around the UF campus. His results have shown that the flu virus can spread from an infected person to others just walking by more than 6 feet away.
The device is still in the testing phase.