Ahhh…ahhh…ahhh…CHOO! There's nothing quite like the explosive power of a sneeze to put a good scare in an unsuspecting friend. We just hope you caught your sneeze in a tissue or the crook of your elbow.
If not, it's hard telling how many people you just shared your germs with. Some of those people may have blessed you or said, "Gesundheit!" after your sneeze, but they'll be muttering something else entirely if they discover your sneeze gave them a cold.
When you sneeze, your body expels air, germs, and moisture through the mouth and nose. It does so almost-violently. Some studies have shown that a sneeze can expel air at speeds of up to 93 miles per hour!
Given that velocity, it's no surprise that germs in a sneeze can travel quite a distance. If you've ever been standing a few feet away from someone when they sneezed, you may have felt a few drops hit your arm. Yuck!
Scientists now know that germs in a sneeze can travel much farther than a few feet, though. Previous studies had focused on larger, visible drops to estimate how far germs could travel in a sneeze.
New studies using more advanced equipment have been able to track sneeze particles farther than ever before. For example, researchers have discovered that many particles from a sneeze travel together in a previously-undetected gas bubble that scientists call a "multiphase turbulent buoyant bubble."
Scientists have learned that smaller particles suspended in this gas bubble can travel as far as 200 feet away from the person who sneezed. Moreover, those germs can easily travel far enough to find their way into ventilation systems, thereby extending their journey even farther!
These findings were made recently by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Their results were surprising because they showed germs in sneezes could travel much farther than previously thought.
Researchers believe these new findings underscore how important it is to contain sneezes, either by sneezing into a tissue or the crook of your arm. In this way, many of the germs can be contained to a much smaller area.
These findings also reinforce the need for good ventilation filtration systems to stop the spread of airborne microbes. Filters should be changed frequently. More importantly, ventilation systems should include filters that can trap tiny particles, such as bacteria and viruses.
In the end, your most basic defense strategies will still serve you well. If you're sick, stay home from work or school. If you're exposed to sick people at work or school, wash your hands frequently, especially after touching other people or objects and before eating.