Sneezes create huge germ gas clouds

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

While the drops shoot out in an impressive spray, it’s the fine mist of germs that really go the distance, traveling 200 times farther than previously thought.

Sneezes cause mucus to shoot out of our faces at incredible speeds, and according to a new study, our sneezes can go even further than previously thought! In fact, the bodily explosion creates a gigantic cloud of microscopic germs that can spread through the air. These results are so serious, they may call for a total redesign of ventilation systems, which filter air through buildings.

In the past, researchers ignored the fine mist of a sneeze when determining how far a sneeze could spread. Instead, they focused on the fat droplets of molecules. The line of thinking was that heavier drops can fly at much quicker speeds and therefore travel farther than any mist can. Scientists from MIT, however, thought it couldn’t hurt to study the fine spray, and what they discovered will make you wish everyone covered their faces better.

After running a bunch of computer simulations, mathematical models, and high-speed imaging, the researchers found that our noses can spray germs over 200 times farther than past estimates! This is because the microscopic molecules are associated with a gas cloud and are easily carried by tiny wind currents. So, they can be distributed much farther, almost like a cloud of smoke snakes through a room. Meanwhile, the larger and heavier molecules fall out of the cloud, therefore covering a relatively shorter distance.

To make matters stickier than they already are, current ventilation systems may promote the spread of dangerous germs in areas like hospitals, airplanes, and workplaces. It’s serious enough for engineers to look into. In the meantime, be sure to have an elbow ready when you feel a sneeze coming on, to cover that nose and mouth!

Featured image courtesy of MIT News/Jose-Luis Olivares.