In the throes of cold and flu season, you will likely encounter “the sneezer”—the guy who refuses to stay home and instead shares his virus with unsuspecting strangers. That’s no small matter, as just one sneeze has the velocity to fill an entire room full of cold germs, according to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
The team’s earlier study discovered that sneeze droplets travel fast, covering a room all the way up to ceiling ventilation ducts in just a few minutes. They discovered the sheer volume of droplets with a single sneeze based on videos of two healthy people sneezing about 50 times over several days. It’s a "high-propulsion sneeze cloud" that shrouds an entire room in minutes, says Lydia Bourouiba, head of MIT's Fluid Dynamics of Disease Transmission Laboratory. Infections like the cold, flu and measles are spread by those virus-infused droplets, ready to be inhaled or deposited on surfaces people touch. This is the pathway to contracting the illness.
What can you do to protect yourself from the “sneeze cloud”?
While avoiding sick people is smart, it’s not always possible. These expert tips will help you fend off viruses:
1. Consider getting a flu shot. It’s supposed to work better than in previous years, according to the CDC.
2. Keep your hands clean. Wash them often with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, as these membranes are an easy entry point for germs.
3. Don’t skimp on sleep. Get seven hours of sleep every night to allow the body to repair itself. People who sleep fewer than six hours per night are four times more likely to catch a cold than those who rack up more than seven hours.
4. Exercise often. Working out protects you from getting sick and shortens the duration of an illness if you do fall under the weather. You’ll also prevent any prior bugs you've had from attacking again.
5. Simply convince yourself you have “excellent” health. That’s right—just thinking this has been shown to help the body better able to resist a cold.
6. Follow these guidelines from Oprah’s health guru.
If you do get sick despite all your best intentions, chicken soup and bone broth help reduce upper respiratory cold symptoms and come with fewer side effects than cough and cold medicine. And remember: Whether or not you emerge from cold and flu season with an illness, stay healthy year round (those germs may dissipate, but they don’t disappear).