Coughs and Sneezes and CoVID-19

As most of us become as paranoid as Lady Macbeth about handwashing, dodging infected droplet spread of CoVID-19 is equally important. So, let’s talk about sneezing and coughing.

  1. To avoid potentially infecting others, hold something you can clean or dispose of safely to sneeze or cough into at all times. Sneezing or coughing into your elbow might be better than letting it all out into the air, but even the mildest cough can defeat a crooked elbow.  Despite all the rhetoric, coughs do not travel at 50 miles per hour, more like more than 10 (20 kilometres) A cough is half as fast.
  2. If you have to cough or sneeze, both of which are important functions to keep our respiratory tract safe, clean and moisturized, look down not ahead nor up. The maximum distance a sneeze can reach from the mouth or nose is just under three feet (84cm). A cough can travel a maximum of about one foot (30cm) and both get to that distance in less than 2 seconds.
  3. Paradoxically, people with runny noses and coughs can’t spread droplets as far as seemingly healthy people. Sick people produce heavier droplets because they contain more mucous and other by-products. These droplets travel more slowly than “healthy droplets.” Maybe that will protect us a little bit.
  4. Don’t go with the flow. Coughs and sneezes are turbulent and move like clouds, dependent on environmental conditions such as humidity and wind flows. So, we must pay attention not just to the person who is sneezing or coughing, but also to where they are doing it. If time permits, positioning yourself upwind from a sneezing is best.
  5. Don’t spit. Spitting doesn’t transmit HIV and it is unknown whether it might transmit the CoVID-19 virus, but it is certainly a dangerous transmission route for tuberculosis. Sadly, spitting is on the rise.
  6. Beware opera singers, and woodwind and brass instrument virtuosos. They have strong lung and diaphragmatic forces, so their coughs and sneezes could travel a lot further!
  7. Other factors besides beside upper respiratory tract infections and allergies can trigger sneezing. Sudden exposure to bright light, a particularly full stomach and physical stimulants can all prompt sneezes. Just because someone sneezes doesn’t mean they carry CoVID-19 or any other infectious disease.
  8. Sneezing can be dangerous to the person sneezing as well. More than 50 sneeze-related injuries have been reported in the literature, ranging from brain to chest injuries. These injuries are more likely to occur in men, probably because they have stronger and larger diaphragms. Sneezing-related injuries can be reduced by blowing into a tissue or handkerchief.

Being sneezed or coughed on is not necessarily a death warrant, and as we are all sneezers and coughers we can collectively practice common public health sense and take precautions to both protect others and stay out of the line of fire ourselves.

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