Sneezes travel a lot farther on an airplane than you might think. (ANSYS)
No one likes to get stuck next to a sick person on an airplane, but it turns out those pesky airborne germs will likely affect you no matter where you sit in the cabin.
A new animated video put together by Pennsylvania-based engineering firm Ansys simulates just what happens when someone seated in the middle of an airplane sneezes.
The results aren’t pretty.
Instead of staying in a little bubble around the sneezing passenger, airborne particles can travel up to 50 feet, dispersing in all directions around the cabin due to plane airflow.
“The particles are colored to show you where the stuff goes,” Robert Harwood, a director at Ansys, told Popular Science. ”Those droplets get picked up by the airflow and get transplanted all over the cabin. They actually spread quite far.”
The idea behind the video is to give public health officials and airlines a greater understanding of how certain germs spread, and the information could be used to help curb the spread of infectious diseases that are airborne like influenza. Just in time for flu season.
Although air inside the main cabin is recycled about every two minutes, Harwood says that new air conditioning systems can help regulate how certain germs are spread. But safer cabins often mean higher costs.
“They [airlines] want the cheapest flight but also for their passengers to be healthy. Our technology is useful because they can see how they can achieve that and improve performance without sacrificing cost.”
Despite the apparent widespread dispersion of these germs, it’s still not that easy to catch something like the flu while flying. And the simulation does not apply to the much feared Ebola virus, which cannot be spread through the air.
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