CHICAGO – That dainty handkerchief you use to cover up sneezes should be considered more of a fierce battle shield, after new research shows that sneezes release violent gas clouds with the ability to spread germs farther than previously calculated.
Coughs and sneezes release a cloud of invisible gas that extends the range of droplets released as much as 5 to 200 times, according to the study “Violent expiratory events: on coughing and sneezing,” conducted by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers and published in the Journal of Fluid Mechanics.
The researchers used high-speed imaging of coughs and sneezes, combined with lab simulations and mathematical modeling, to conclude that small droplets emitted during a sneeze actually travel farther than the larger ones, as commonly believed.
Given the findings, researchers suggest that architects and engineers re-examine the design of workplaces and hospitals and air circulation on airplanes to reduce the chances of illness being transmitted.
The idea of sneezes releasing gas clouds makes sense to Sylvia Suarez-Ponce, infection prevention practitioner at Loyola University Medical Center near Chicago.
Suarez-Ponce regularly cautions people to sneeze into a tissue whenever possible. Washing hands and discarding the tissue immediately afterward is also recommended to prevent the spread of disease, she said.