How far do flu germs travel?

With flu season in full swing and some of my friends complaining of body aches, sneezing and coughing, I can’t


With flu season in full swing and some of my friends complaining of body aches, sneezing and coughing, I can’t help but be a little germaphobic.

Just last week I was kidding, but mostly serious, when I suggested that a friend not join our group at a birthday party when she merely mentioned she had been feeling a little under the weather. Then I joked (kind of) that I was no longer going to be able to give her a drive because I didn’t think it was a good idea to be in a confined space with someone who was sick.

Scientists in Singapore are currently studying what happens when someone sneezes and just how far germs can travel. Their findings will let us know if we have reason to be concerned when in close proximity to sick people.

With a giant mirror and a high-speed camera, the scientists from Singapore’s National University Hospital are trying to find out whether the flu virus can be transmitted through the air. They are observing a person’s spray of tiny liquid droplets when coughing and sneezing, and even whistling and singing. The study will show just how far these droplets can travel and what they carry. The study will also look at the effectiveness of germ-minimizing etiquette such as sneezing into a tissue or a sleeve.

This research, along with other studies looking at viral survival and host immune response, will allow for better guidelines for infection control.  "It’s really to inform infection control teams, because there is controversy now about which pathogens, e.g. flu, are airborne and if so, how significant this route is compared to others, such as direct contact," team leader Julian Tang, a virologist and consultant with Singapore’s National University Hospital told Reuters.

Researchers won’t reach a conclusion until next summer, so until then, I think I will continue to be a little paranoid. Although there is no confirmation that my friend will infect me with the flu, there is no doubt that something is being sprayed when she opens her mouth. So when friends are sick, I think I’ll ask them to keep their singing along to the radio to a minimum’at least when I am driving. That’s what I did on our way to the birthday party.

What would you have done? Am I being cleverly cautious or way too paranoid?

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