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Yuck! Video Shows Sneezes Move Farther Than Thought

screenshot of sneeze video
Cover your mouth! Sneezes travel much farther than thought. (Image credit: Screenshot. High speed footage courtesy of Lydia Bourouiba)

A gross new video could convince people of why they should cover their mouths and noses next time they're about to have an infectious explosion. The researchers who made the video say it shows that coughs and sneezes produce clouds of droplets that travel much farther than thought.

"When you cough or sneeze, you see the droplets, or feel them if someone sneezes on you. But you don't see the cloud, the invisible gas phase," study researcher John Bush, an applied mathematician at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in a statement.

High-speed imaging revealed that tiny droplets from a cough or sneeze travel five to 200 times farther than they would if they moved as a collection of disparate particles, which was previously suspected. The fact that the infectious droplets travel in clouds means they could spread more easily through ventilation systems, sickening people, the researchers said. [See Video of Sneezing in Slow Motion]

The findings could have implications for how architects and engineers design circulation systems in hospitals, workplaces and airplanes.

The study, aptly titled "Violent expiratory events: on coughing and sneezing," was published online March 24 in the Journal of Fluid Mechanics.

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Tanya Lewis
Tanya was a staff writer for Live Science from 2013 to 2015, covering a wide array of topics, ranging from neuroscience to robotics to strange/cute animals. She received a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a bachelor of science in biomedical engineering from Brown University. She has previously written for Science News, Wired, The Santa Cruz Sentinel, the radio show Big Picture Science and other places. Tanya has lived on a tropical island, witnessed volcanic eruptions and flown in zero gravity (without losing her lunch!). To find out what her latest project is, you can visit her website.