Coughs and Sneezes Spread Moisture

Moisture loving viruses

Picture this. You are on a bus and a man immediately behind you sneezes, a big wet one. His moisture fills the air. Then he sneezes another big wet one. What do you do next?

Moisture on buses

Lothian buses in Princes Street Edinburgh

There is nothing much you can do. It’s too late. Two plumes of virus laden moisture have dispersed themselves around you like an unpleasant fragrance from a room vaporizer. An option is to turn around and say something to the man but that will only bring you into closer contact with the man’s unwanted moisture and “germs”.

Coughs, sneezes and diseases

“Coughs and sneezes spread diseases”. People of my generation will remember this slogan very well. We had it at school and there used to be short public information films on the TV in the 60s. The link will take you to one going back as far as 1946. Interesting to see what was considered then as public “nuisance” behaviour. Germs was another word that got used a lot. My fantastic biology teacher, Mr. Little, knocked that one out of us, “it’s bacteria and viruses, both very very different”. So what has all this to do with moisture?

When I was on this particular bus in Edinburgh the weather had just turned suddenly from quite mild to a cold stream of air blowing down from the North. Even though you can’t really feel it, the humidity often rises in these conditions. Weather data from Edinburgh on that day was 3 -5°C, a wee bit chilly, and over 80%RH. The RH is Relative Humidity often shortened to “humidity”.

Humidity, evaporation and moisture droplets

In these conditions you would not expect to dry your clothes outside on a line. This is because the moisture cannot leave the fabrics of the clothes very quickly, if at all. So, it is the same with droplets of moisture, they take longer to evaporate in the air and from surfaces where they have landed. Coming back to the man with his snotty nose and his “sneezelets”, these tiny droplets of moisture carrying virus will not have evaporated quickly in the air and circulated around the bus landing on the seat handles and poles that we have to use getting off the bus coming to your stop.

A day and half later travelling back to Ireland from Edinburgh I felt a dryness in my throat. During the night I woke up not breathing properly with one nostril completely blocked. I managed to get some relief using Tiger Balm but spent the day in bed with a streaming nose, headache and the usual cold symptoms. Working from home I have to respond to clients and this just was not possible for two days all because a man did not know, or care, about his sneezes spreading diseases.

I may be being a bit unfair to the man, but I think you’ll get the point.

If you Google humidity and cold viruses you’ll see that there is a link between temperature, humidity and the survival of viruses. Caution has to be taken with the loose use of terms. Cold and flu viruses have been shown in scientific studies to be sensitive to “Absolute Humidity” and this brings in a factor that I mention several times in my book A Wet Look At Climate Change, you must always consider the temperature!

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