April 10, 2014 at 2:19 PM ET
If someone sneezes near you, it's a good idea to back away fast. Far away.
A new report from MIT reveals just how easy it is to get sick from other people. Coughs and sneezes travel much further than previously thought, up to 200 times further.
Scientists refer to sneezing as a “multiphase turbulent buoyant cloud.” If someone near you sneezes openly, you may see or (gross) feel the droplets, but the respiratory disease cloud keeps traveling, according to the study.
"It is the 'Sharknado' of germs," Matt Lauer said Thursday.
That invisible cloud can fly across the room allowing germs into ventilation systems, causing them to spread even further. The report was published in the brilliantly named Journal of Fluid Mechanics.
So what causes sneezing in the first place?
Sneezing is an involuntary way to clear out bacteria or other injurious agents from the body, says Dr. Gordon Siegel, a Chicago-area otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor). “That being said, you can control to a degree the way it comes out.”
In fact, the way you sneeze may even reflect your personality. For example, an outgoing person may have a louder, more demonstrative sneeze where someone who is shy may be more subtle.
But no matter what your sneezing style is, the solution to avoid spreading germs remains the same: cover your mouth.