Sneezing, as it turns out … is nothing to sneeze at

Range: 20 feet.

Speed: 25-50 mph.

Nature of the threat: “violent expirations” of tiny droplets from the nose or mouth of an individual that contain the flu virus.

With the cold and flu season still with us, NPR looked at the question of how the pathogens of one person become the pathogens of another. The answer, it seems, is that by getting us to cough or sneeze, these clever critters get free passage to a new “host” – us – and thus a new lease on life.

The other clever bit is that we’re tricked into thinking that if we feel okay then we’re not contagious. In truth, we’re contagious one day before we start feeling sick and up to seven days after we’re feeling better.

This matters because even beyond the harm the flu virus itself can do, it actually has a much longer reach. For instance:

It paves the way for secondary and deadly bacterial infections to set in, for example, MRSA, as happened with this woman.

It strains hospital resources breaking down infection control practices which can lead to superbug outbreaks as happened recently at this Ontario hospital.

And we commonly prescribe the wrong treatment for the flu – namely, an antibiotic – and suffer a severe side effect as a result. For example, the painful and often deadly C. difficile-caused diarrhea; irregular heartbeats and sudden death; tendon rupture; drug interactions causing people to end up in the emergency room; and the creation of drug-resistant bugs.

The CDC says there’s 3 ways to fight the flu: vaccinate, take an antiviral drug (these are not antibiotics), and “stop germs.” This engaging NPR video shows us that one important way to stop germs is to stay out of range of the sneeze.


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