What’s in a sneeze?

February 21st, 2018

Even if someone doesn’t seem like they have the flu, don’t discount what you may be exposed to if you’re anywhere in the vicinity of a sneeze or cough that doesn’t get covered.

People with the flu are contagious a full day before their symptoms become noticeable and up to seven days thereafter. Children can be contagious even longer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A single sneeze expels as many as 100,000 droplets at speeds up to 100 mph, according to an American Lung Association blogger (who added the expletive, “Yikes”). A cough expels about 3,000 droplets with about half as much force.

Virus-contaminated droplets can land anywhere, unnoticed unless they find a way inside your nose or mouth, which isn’t as hard as it might seem. National Institutes of Health research says people touch their faces an average of 3.6 times per hour, usually without realizing they did. The real problem with that is that they also touch common objects — door handles, shopping carts, elevator buttons — almost as often.

The CDC recommends that people with the flu stay home for 24 hours after they no longer have a fever (and are not taking ibuprofen or other fever-reducer).

To protect yourself from the flu, get a flu shot, clean your hands often, clean surfaces and common objects frequently, and stay away from people coughing and sneezing. If you get the flu, protect others by staying home, covering your sneezes and coughs with your sleeve and keeping your hands clean. If your doctor recommends an antiviral drug like Tamiflu, take it. It may shorten the duration of illness — and the length of time you are contagious to others.

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