I can truly say there is little that peeves me more than seeing someone cough or sneeze without covering their mouth.
And despite the fact that most of us have been taught our entire lives that this is a super effective way to pass airborne diseases, people still walk down the street releasing their spit and snot willy-nilly.
It's enough to make someone (like me, for example) breathe flames and flip tables.
While I once believed that my bubbling levels of volcanic rage for these germ perpetrators may have been slightly irrational, it turns out I may be more justified than I thought.
We already knew the particles from sneezes could reach, at max, 200 feet (kill me now).
But New Research Suggests These Germs Can Stay Alive For Up To 45 Minutes
I'm sorry, guys.
This is so, so gross. But all too real.
The research comes from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia, in a study headed up by professor Lidia Morawska, director of the International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health, and professor Scott Bell from QIMR Berghofer and The Prince Charles Hospital.
The team wanted to figure out how sneeze and cough droplets stayed alive for so long when expelled from the nose and mouth.
They used natural respiratory droplets (read: real human sneezes) containing the bacteria pseudomonas aeruginosa (the most common disease-causing species of bacteria resistant to antibiotics), as opposed to "bio-aerosol" sneezes generated in a lab.
They Found That The "Shelf Life" Of The Bacteria Has To Do With The Size Of The Droplets That Contain Them
Our previous research had found these pathogens travelled up to 4m and stayed viable for up to 45 minutes after being coughed into the air.
When cough droplets make contact with air, they apparently dry out, cool, and are light enough to stay airborne.
While the droplets partly break down when exposed to oxygen, larger droplets take a lot longer to evaporate.
And since they stick around for awhile, they can infect people for a pretty long period of time.
We think this could be because droplets are produced in different parts of the respiratory tract and carry different 'loads' of bacteria.
Morawska's research was done specifically considering people who have immunodeficiency, like individuals with cystic fibrosis.
Such findings will affect how disease control is approached in hospitals -- but really, it's helpful information for everyone.
While It's Impossible To Entirely Avoid These Bacteria, There Are Ways To Avoid And Prevent The Spread Of Germs
Yes, it's definitely good to cover your sneeze and cough with your hand, but the best way to do it will always be with a tissue.
By doing so, the bacteria is effectively trapped, and you can discard it, and the spread of germs from contact with your hands is limited.
With that said, always keep your skin mits clean as a whistle.
That way, you have (at least) a fighting chance during cold season when some free-sneezing snot gorilla tries to take you down.