MAYWOOD, Ill. (April 16, 2015) – Each sneeze, cough or burp generates a cloud of invisible gas that propels droplets containing viruses and bacteria farther than originally thought, with smaller droplets travelling longer distances than larger ones. A new MIT study published in the Journal of Fluid Mechanics says this gas cloud extends the reach of droplets by five to 200 times.
“Colds, flu, measles, TB and other airborne diseases can be transmitted through the air by a simple sneeze,” said Sylvia Suarez-Ponce, RN, an infection control practitioner at Loyola University Health System. “The new study reinforces that sick people need to stay home for the sake of the community."
People also need to change their habits when ill. “Many think they are doing the best thing by sneezing into the crook of their arm, or covering their mouth with their hand when they cough,” said Suarez-Ponce. “I was at a gathering recently and a woman coughed heavily into her hand. She then shook hands with everyone around her, introducing herself and passing along her germs and infections."
Love thy neighbor, said Suarez-Ponce, and use a tissue for both coughing and sneezing. “Throw the soiled tissue away and then wash your hands really, really well,” she said. If you do not have a tissue, the crook of the arm is the second-best option. Sanitizing hand gel is also acceptable but follow the manufacturer’s directions on how much to use to achieve proper disinfection.
Hand hygiene is key to good health, Suarez-Ponce said, yet most people do not clean their hands correctly. “You need to really wet and soap up every part of each hand, the nails, the web between your fingers and the palm,” she said. “Keep rubbing and twisting your soapy hands together for 20 seconds, which is the equivalent of singing or humming ‘Happy Birthday’ twice.” Then, she said, rinse thoroughly with clean water and dry completely.
Loyola University Health System is recognized internationally as a leader in infection control and prevention. Loyola is one of a few select hospitals that invests in universal screening of all inpatients for MRSA. Loyola was one of the first institutions to require all staff to have mandatory flu shots as a condition of employment. And Loyola was the only academic hospital to participate in a national C. difficile study and performs the most accurate testing for bacteria. Loyola also actively screens emergency department patients for HIV/AIDS as part of an ongoing research study.