A sneeze launches a thousand germs

It’s the flu season again and here’s a repost to remind one of the hazards of sneezing.

In “Gesundheit!” sneezing, common colds, allergies, and Staphylococcus aureus dispersion, Bischoff WE and colleagues studied the effects of sneezing on the airborne dispersal of S. aureus and other bacteria in healthy nasal S. aureus carriers. Volunteers were inoculated with a rhinovirus and all developed the common cold.
The results?

Sneezing caused a 4.7-fold increase in the airborne dispersal of S. aureus, a 1.4-fold increase in coagulase-negative staphylococci (CoNS), and a 3.9-fold increase in other bacteria (P < .001). An additional 2.83 colony forming units (cfu) of S. aureus/m3/min, 3.24 cfu of CoNS/m3/min, and 474.61 cfu of other bacteria/m3/min were released per sneeze. Rhinovirus exposure did not change the frequency of sneezing or airborne dispersal. Having respiratory allergies increased the spread of S. aureus by 3.8-fold during sneezing sessions (P < .001). CONCLUSION: Nasal S. aureus carriers disperse a significant amount of S. aureus into the air by sneezing. Experimental colds do not alter bacterial dispersal, but respiratory allergies multiply the effect of dispersing S. aureus.

Sneezing is thus not a trivial act. It potentially is a source of transmission of serious pathogens. So please cover up your nose and mouth when that “Ah choo!” feeling comes about.

The problem is not only do people not cover their nose or mouth, even if they do, the common habit of coughing or sneezing is into ones hands which is not right – you can spread germs via contact.
If you don’t have a tissue handy, the best way is to sneeze into your elbow or sleeve, as mentioned in the previous post Don’t sneeze or cough into your hands!


Malaysian physician, haematologist, blogger, web and tech enthusiast

1 Comment on “A sneeze launches a thousand germs

  1. Most Malaysians, I regret, do not cover their mouth and nose when they sneeze.
    Some even do it in your face and act as though it is the most natural thing to do in the world!
    How can we stop this disgusting trait?