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April 28th, 2009
07:59 PM ET

Anatomy of a sneeze

Program Note: Tune in tonight for Randi Kaye's full report on AC360° tonight at 10 p.m. ET.

Randi Kaye | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Riding the subway in New York City these days has taken on a whole new “yuck” factor.

With swine flu cases in Queens, NY and so many other parts of the country and the world, a lot of people are asking themselves, “Can I get it?”

Well, if you’re near anyone who sneezes who has the flu, the answer is you could. We rode the subway today with a doctor from Lenox Hospital in New York City and he really gave us an earful about what’s going on in our noses when we sneeze. We got a good visual about what happens when you sneeze and how germs spread human to human so easily, which is what the experts say is happening with the swine flu.

Turns out, a sneeze sends all that goopy stuff flying at about 100 miles an hour in your direction. He says a single sneeze sprays anywhere from 40,000 to 100,000 droplets of pure germ. Gross! And this stuff hangs in the air for up to a minute so even if you’re not within the three to five feet that the sneeze immediately hits, you may still be affected if you walk over to that area within a minute or so.

Here’s the really gross part. If someone sneezes into their hand on a subway train and then grabs the pole to hang on or a seat to sit down on, they will deposit those germs on the pole and the seat. We shot a demonstration of this for our story tonight while riding the subway .

The next unsuspecting commuter will pick them up without even knowing they are there. Our expert, Dr. Len Horovitz, told me those germs can survive up to 24 hours. Pretty hardy, eh? That means even if you weren’t in the subway car that day, if you get in that car the next day and sit in the sneezer’s seat or hold onto the same pole, look out!

Bottom line, germs are tough and they live longer than you might expect. Trouble is they’re also invisible so they spread without anyone even knowing it.

Best advice, do not touch your face, especially your eyes or your mouth, after being around public transportation or sneezing or coughing. Wash your hands as soon as you get home or into the office!


Filed under: 360° Radar • Public Health • Randi Kaye
soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Karen Conway

    I have chronic leukemia and ana neg. Lupus. Should I be taking tamiflu or some other flu prevention mediacation.

    April 28, 2009 at 11:45 pm |
  2. Robert

    On AC360 they said 40,000 droplets at 100,000 miles per hour.

    Its more like 100 miles per hour. 100,000 would be like... mach 125, the fastest objects to ever occur in the atmosphere. Probably blow up the subway train like a stick of dynamite.

    April 28, 2009 at 10:32 pm |
  3. Clark Wagner

    In the story on the spread of germs it was stated that a sneeze travels at 100,000 miles per hour. I think this is more than a little incorrect. That's over 100 times the speed of sound. The sonic booms would be cool though.

    April 28, 2009 at 10:28 pm |
  4. Tamarah

    I have no choice but to take public transportation to work. Before this outbreak people coughing and sneezing into the air bothered me, but now it's dangerous. I'm wearing gloves until this situation is remedied. I hope people learn to be less disgusting as a result of this.

    April 28, 2009 at 10:25 pm |
  5. Sharon S

    it is so sick to see how many people don't cover their mouths when they cough and sneeze! Disgusting I was just in a CVS store just to check my blood pressure and of course the machine is back near the pharmacy but a person sit down right next to me and she kept coughing and never once covered her mouth! And this was grown woman so disgusting!
    I guess I am noticing this now that the swine flu has broken out!!!

    Sad these people never learned simple respect of covering your mouth when you cough and sneeze! Makes me want to just stay home and not go out!

    April 28, 2009 at 8:06 pm |
  6. Lilibeth

    Hi Randi, sorry you got this assignment.....Just kidding :) I look forward to your report.

    Lilibeth
    Edmonds, Washington

    April 28, 2009 at 7:41 pm |
  7. Mari

    Wash your hands........... wash your hands......... cover your face when you cough or sneeze with a tissue......... wash your hands!

    April 28, 2009 at 7:32 pm |
  8. Isabel

    Hi, Randi!

    I loved your picture! It expressed everything!
    I do the same! lol ...

    I add three things:

    - Use disposable tissue paper, please;
    - It is important that the home is airy and receive the sunlight, because these measures help to eliminate the possible agents of respiratory infections.
    - Clean hands with soap and water after coughing or sneezing (the poor guy who sneeze and cough should also wash their hands).

    I await your reporting!
    Thanks!

    April 28, 2009 at 7:01 pm |
  9. Carolyn, Calabasas, CA

    It is noteworthy that the violence in Mexico prevented many thousands of U.S. students from spending spring break in there, just at the time the swine flu was incubating and spreading!

    April 28, 2009 at 6:35 pm |
  10. Tammy, Berwick, LA

    I teach high school. I cannot even begin to count the ways germs are spread at my job on any given day. I cannot count the kids who come to school sick because we are the babysitting service for parents who work and have no other choice. I promise no learning is happening when a child feels that bad and is forced to sit in a classroom. Lots of disease sharing is probably happening at that moment, though. So, unless I want to bathe in Germ-X 24/7, wear a haz mat suit, or stay home, I'm at risk. In the meantime, I'll just use standard precautions and take my chances. Yesterday I was home because I caught a stomach bug even after all the precautions. By the end of day watching CNN, I'd have sworn we were all going to die of Swine Flu if I didn't have a rational brain cell working. Really, the overemphasis is creating panic amongst the germ freaks and hypochondriacs. The rest of us just find the overdrama a bit amusing as we go about our daily living. I wish you people would panic this much about the other uncurable diseases out there that have the potential to kill countless people each year. When was the last time you spent this much energy on something like juvenile diabetes or ovarian cancer?

    April 28, 2009 at 6:23 pm |
  11. Heather,ca

    The problem is if the interest in the prevention of Swine Flu were the same when it comes to the common cold,strep throat or the regular flu. Many people assume they know how long it takes to catch a cold and they believe myths they hear. They think that once they start to feel better that they are fine and others think they are not contagious so they are surprised when they start feel sick. I only wish people would cover their mouths with a kleenex or stay home all together. My mom whose dad was a dr kept home if i were sick so I wouldnt spread it. I use wipes and soap and sterilize everything. I cough in my elbow and avoid everybody. I always go to the dr immediately when I get sick. People need to realize a sneeze or a cough can cost money and simply practicing proper hand washing with soap and wearing a mask and not being selfish can really help.

    April 28, 2009 at 6:09 pm |
  12. Annie Kate

    Good advice for anytime and not just when the flu is going around. Growing up I can remember my mother telling us to cover our mouth and noses when we sneezed and cough either with our hands, but preferably with a kleenex that we could throw away. It doesn't seem like many people do that anymore – it would be a good thing to relearn right now. I'm looking forward to the report.

    April 28, 2009 at 6:08 pm |