Research

Sneezes Vs. Coughs

Sneezing and coughing are major contributors to the spread of many pathogens. Both are multiphase flows, consisting of both liquid droplets and gaseous vapors that interact. The image on the left shows a sneeze cloud as a turbulent plume. The kink in the cloud shows that plume is buoyant, which helps it remain aloft. The right image shows trajectories for some of the larger droplets ejected in a sneeze. Like the sneeze cloud, these droplets persist for significant distances. The buoyancy of the cloud also helps keep aloft some of the smaller pathogen-bearing droplets. Researchers are building models for these multiphase flows and their interactions to better predict and counter the spread of such airborne pathogens. For similar examples of fluid dynamics in public health, see what coughing looks like, how hospital toilets may spread pathogens, and how adjusting viscoelastic properties may counter these effects. For more about this work, see the Bourouiba research group’s website. (Image credit: L. Bourouiba et al.)

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