Recent studies give new meaning to the phrase "cloud cover."
Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have
been examining a powerful force termed "sneeze clouds," the
invisible gas expelled during a sneeze or cough.
"Because the gas cloud is expelled at a high velocity during a sneeze,
it can carry droplets from your nose and mouth outward into a room, and
keep the droplets suspended in the air," says
Reema Basu, MD, a board-certified pediatrician at
St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group in Santa Ana. "In fact, it's possible for these droplets to make
their way into the ventilation system of a room or building, which means
potential germs can spread even farther."
In the most recent research out of MIT on sneezes and coughs, or what the
researchers call "multiphase turbulent buoyant clouds," the
findings indicate that sneeze clouds move faster than most people would
think. "They can fill a room within minutes, even up to the ceiling,"
Dr. Basu says. "The MIT team analyzed videos that show the path a
sneeze cloud travels, and it is eye-opening to see how forcefully the
cloud comes out during a sneeze or cough, and the spray of droplets carried
within the cloud. The images really reinforce how easy it is for cold
and flu germs to spread if people don't take the proper precautions
with coughs or sneezes."
Dr. Basu adds that you should cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when
coughing or sneezing, or do it into the crook of your elbow, to stop the
cloud from spreading. "Make sure to teach your children proper sneezing
and coughing etiquette," Dr. Basu says.
Tissues should be thrown away as soon as possible and hands should be washed
thoroughly with soap and water, or antibacterial gel in a pinch. "And
stay home from work or school if you are sick and exhibiting cold and
flu symptoms such as coughing or sneezing," Dr. Basu says. "With
the infectious potential of coughs and sneezes more powerful than we previously
thought, it's best to keep your children among themselves as much
as possible while contagious."
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.