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Best Defense for Flu Season: The Gorilla in the Room

Do we really see everything that is right in front of us? Most of us will believe that we are fully aware of our circumstances and highly alert of our surroundings. Now, let’s consider a term that was coined by researchers and authors Arien Mack and Irvin Rock in their same titled book “Inattentional Blindness” (MIT Press, 1998). Many people believe that merely by opening their eyes, they see everything in their field of view. Authors Mack and Rock make the radical claim that we only see what we pay attention to, even when things are directly right in of our line of sight. 

The most noted study with this concept was the Invisible Gorilla Test (Chabris and Simons 1999). In this visual perception study, the subjects were asked to watch a video and count how many times a basketball was passed between a group of people wearing white shirts. During the video, a Gorilla suited person walks across the screen, stops and pounds their chest, then continues to walk off screen. Pretty obvious interruption in the video.  During the post video interviews, only 50% of the subjects reported seeing a Gorilla. Leaving us with 50% of the subjects that had no idea that a Gorilla clearly walked directly in front of them while they were paying attention to counting basketball passes. Inattentional Blindness allows us to see only what we are focused on and become blind to things we don’t give attention to, regardless of how obvious they might be

How can this concept open up our minds on how we are combating the Flu epidemic that comes around every cold and dry season? How can we use this to help further protect our Patients and Staff? 

Currently, we do an exceptional job at educating the masses on getting Flu shots. Most healthcare workers are required to be vaccinated. We do a great job on education about hand washing and covering up your cough and sneeze. Many children know this already from schools insisting they cough or sneeze into their inner elbow.
Most hospitals are very in tune with check-list and protocols that are implemented year round in order to prevent cross contamination of pathogens. These procedures are emphasized even more during the Flu season. These are effective and common defenses. They are also somewhat tangible and measurable and can be reported on, which gives us some comfort. Could this be the equivalent of counting basketball passes?

What emphasis do we put on proper Air Hydration throughout a healthcare facility? We know that pathogens thrive, traveling further and living longer, in dry air (<40%RH). We know that the Flu virus itself decreases significantly in viral infectivity in well hydrated air, >40%RH (Noti, et al 2013). We know that people are healthiest in a properly hydrated environment, between 40% - 60% RH (Sterling, et al 1985). Our respiratory tract stays healthy and protective. As well as our nasal mucosa are able to trap dust and other particles from reaching the inner portions of our bodies. Many facilities barely track the RH levels outside of critical areas such as OR’s, NICU’s or sterile supply rooms. Significant patient hours are spent in the facility, but outside of these areas, such as Patient recovery rooms and Step Down units, etc. Nursing stations are a central location for all staff, commonly visited directly after working with patients. Does it seem like we should consider addressing the proper Air Hydration levels in these areas and throughout the entire facility, or at least be consistently monitoring these areas to identify potential problem areas? Could we improve Staff healthiness and Patient outcomes by adding this area to our protocols?

Proper Indoor Air Hydration could be the Gorilla walking across our screen that we can’t see. 

The concept of Inattentional Blindness is interesting and could open our eyes to see things that are directly right in front of us.

We are continuously growing in our knowledge about humidification and its true impact on human beings and the indoor environment. Next week’s blog post, written by Raul Simonetti, will explain why humidification is becoming so important to our health.

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