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Coughs And Sneezes Could Spread Up To 4 Meters; Bacteria Remain Alive In The Air For 45 Minutes

First Posted: Jun 21, 2017 05:26 AM EDT
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Airborne bacteria could stay alive in the air for 45 minutes, according to a new study.
(Photo : Discovery/YouTube screenshot)

A new study indicates that the bacteria in airborne diseases such as colds and flu could spread up to 4 meters and stay alive in the air for 45 minutes. With this finding, the researchers could find the new treatment for infections and treatment of people with cystic fibrosis.

The research was led by scientists from the Queensland University of Technology and The University of Queensland (UQ). Professor Lidia Morawska, the lead author of the study and the Director of the International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health, said that the research examines the longevity of airborne pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria, which are a multi-drug-resistant germ linked with hospital-acquired infections when they are discharged by human coughs and sneezes.

Professor Morawska said that these pathogens could spread up to 4 meters and stay viable for 45 minutes after being coughed into the air. The scientists developed a novel technique that targets the short-term and long-term aging of bio-aerosols from people without being contaminated from the ambient air. The technique is known as Tandem Aged Respiratory Droplet Investigation System or TARDIS, according to Science Alert.

In the research, the scientists sampled airborne cough droplets from two patients with cystic fibrosis and chronic pseudomonas aeruginosa infection. They discovered that the bacteria in the cough droplets from the patients decayed in two different time spans.

Once the cough droplets hit the air, they dried out, cooled and became light enough to stay airborne. The scientists also discovered the concentration of active bacteria in the dried droplets showed rapid decay with a 10-second half-life for most of the bacteria. On the other hand, the subset of bacteria had a half-life of over 10 minutes, as noted by EurekAlert.

This indicates that the pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria are unaffected to rapid biological decay. This could trigger an airborne infection risk particularly to people with respiratory problems.

The study could help the scientists in developing the novel treatment for airborne disease including cystic fibrosis. It is also advisable that people with airborne diseases must cover their mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing to prevent the spread of bacteria that might infect other people. 

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