A new study reveals that the average human sneeze expels a high-velocity cloud that can contaminate a room in minutes. The warning comes just in time for the cold and flu season.
It is well known that sneezes can spread infectious diseases such as measles or the flu, because viruses suspended in sneeze droplets can be inhaled by others or deposited on surfaces and later picked up as people touch them. But, until now, it was not clear how far sneeze droplets can spread, or why some people are more likely to spread illness through sneezes than others.
Researchers at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found that within a few minutes, sneeze droplets can cover an area the size of a room and reach ventilation ducts at ceiling height.
They also discovered how sneeze droplets are formed within what they called a "high-propulsion sneeze cloud.” Sneeze droplets "undergo a complex cascading breakup that continues after they leave the lungs, pass over the lips and churn through the air," said the researchers.
They added that learning more about the dynamics of sneezing could lead to new ways to prevent the spread of diseases, especially during epidemics or pandemics.