Tests prove the power of a sneeze

Dr. Oz reveals what to do if someone sneezes around you

Published On: Nov 20 2012 02:29:18 PM EST   Updated On: Nov 20 2012 11:15:00 PM EST
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

It can be caused by dust, pepper, allergies and even brought on by plucking your eyebrows. Sneezing is your body's way of protecting itself.

Clearing the nose of bacteria and viruses and getting rid of anything foreign that happens to get in your sinuses. But sneezes can also spread some serious germs. The next time someone sneezes near you, even if it's across the room, we found that you need to take action if you want to avoid getting sick.

Channel 4's Nikki Kimbleton went inside the Biology Lab at the University of North Florida to monitor tests that can tell just how far a sneeze can really travel.

They set up marked petri dishes in long lines going in a bunch of different directions. One plate is even randomly placed on a counter in the room. Then a student takes the spray bottle filled with a yeast compound and replicates an uncovered sneeze.

"What we're doing is using a spritzer bottle to replicate the spraying of the microbes through the air," Dr. Terri Ellis, a microbiologist at UNF said.

They collect the dishes, then place  another set of petri dishes to do the same test again. This time, however, Dr. Ellis explained, "We are doing a covered sneeze, so we will be able to see how that limits the transmission."

After both types of simulated sneezes, covered and uncovered, the petri dishes are collected and stored in a dark, cool place.  Dr. Ellis explained that by seeing how much yeast grows on the petri dishes, it can be determined how far the microbes traveled with each sneeze.

The results from the first, uncovered sneeze; every single petri dish tested positive for the yeast mixture in the spray bottle. This showed that if you're near someone who sneezes without covering his or her mouth, you are in the line of fire.

We talked to TVs Dr. Oz to find out more about what you should do to protect yourself.

"For sneezes, my rule of thumb is that if it's coming at you, it's going to hit you before you can get out of the way." Dr. Oz said. "So you have to predict the sneeze as the person winds up to give you one. It travels around 90 miles and hour, as fast as most baseball pitches can throw a fast ball. So for that, how long it lingers becomes irrelevant because it's going to hit you within a micro second."

Our study with UNF also revealed that even if you cover a sneeze, it's still going to travel a decent distance, and in all directions. The results from the simulated, covered sneeze showed the yeast compound traveled close to twelve feet landing on more than half of the petri dishes. That's why Dr. Oz said there's one thing you need to be prepared to do when a sneeze comes your way.

"I usually put my head inside of my jacket, "Dr. Oz said.  "The key is not to inhale because if the bacteria or virus gets into your skin, it's much less likely to be a problem. If it gets in your eyes or if you breathe it in, because you take a deep breath, that's when you get these viruses into your lungs. Many viruses are passed that way. So look away, hold your breath for a few seconds and breathe into you shirt or jacket."