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It’s not just a sneeze

By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

She sneezed right next to me, and I jumped back just a little.

‘I don’t bite,” she said. “It’s just a sneeze.”

Understood. But it is the winter, and a lot of people are coming down with the flu and respiratory illnesses. I cannot afford to catch one of these because I have to produce the Bulletin each week.

If I get sick, I have to work sick, which is not a pleasant experience. I tried to call in once, but nobody picked up the phone. Then I finally answered it myself and told me to get to work.

“You got the flu shot, right?” she asked.

Yes, I get it every year, but it is not bulletproof. I have gotten the flu shot before and also caught the flu, or something else that closely resembled it.

The problem with the flu shot is that it is a guessing game. Each year, the shot is matched against the expected type of flu viruses. If it’s a good match, the shot can reduce the chances of getting the flu by 50-60 percent. On years when the match is poor, the shot may have no value at all.

Rather than finding out the hard way if the match is good or bad, I try to stay away from areas where the virus has a better chance of spreading, but it’s not always possible, like when someone sneezes nearby.

The force of a single sneeze can send germs across a distance of between five and 32 feet, depending on the strength.

The average sneeze travels between 80 to 100 MPH, and can contain as many as 40,000 droplets loaded with germs. Research in 2014 demonstrated that while the bigger, heavier droplets quickly fall to the ground, those droplets of 50 microns or less can remain floating in the air. Airborne viruses can live for hours and can survive for days after landing on nonporous surfaces.

Once somebody sneezes near you, all you can do is hope that he or she is not coming down with something. It is too late to do anything else. I guess you could just run out of the room yelling “Sneeze, sneeze” to warn others not to come closer.

But since nobody does that, we walk through areas previously infected by a sneeze without knowing that one of those germs could make us very sick.

“Cleaning and washing your hands often will help prevent you from spreading germs from surfaces you touch to your mouth, nose or other people and surfaces,” Mary B. Farone, Ph.D., associate professor of biology at Middle Tennessee State University, recently told weather.com.

“Most importantly, if you are sick, stay home from work or school. Even though you may need to make a quick run to the store, remember that the germs in the cough or sneeze that escaped in the empty aisle, can linger in an invisible cloud that others will certainly pass through,” she said.

To help stop the spread of germs, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Put your used tissue in a waste basket. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands.

Take a personal container of hand sanitizer with you and use it frequently. Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth because that’s a good way to allow germs to enter your body.

And, if you have school-aged children or grandchildren, take all the precautions you can, because the germs that make them feel a little under the weather may knock you out for a week or so.

I am speaking from experience. It is so unfair. Where is my hand sanitizer? I used up the other one already.