Research Uncovers Some Contributing Factors in COVID-19 Spread

NBCUniversal, Inc.

The COVID-19 vaccine is rolling out across the country, but medical experts say this is not the time to let our guards down.

As of January, there have been over 25 million cases and 433,000 deaths in the U.S. alone. Now, scientists have uncovered some of the factors that may make one person more likely to spread the virus than another.

From rocket propulsion... to sneeze propulsion! These mechanical engineers are adapting their skills in the fight against COVID-19.

“Fluid properties drive how well things turn into aerosols,” explained Michael Kinzel, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Central Florida.

In their study, researchers used computer-generated models with intricate geometry to numerically simulate different sneezes.

So, what makes you a super spreader? It turns out age and gender. Young men are the most likely to spread COVID-19 because of their thin saliva that can linger in the air. Also, a full set of teeth can actually cause sneezes to go much farther.

“You can think of this in the context of a hose, a garden hose, and if you stick your thumb over it, it leads a spray that goes out much farther than without,” illustrated Professor Kinzel.

Congestion can also cause sneezes to increase in velocity. The study showed that sneezes with a full set of teeth and a stuffed-up nose went 60% farther than other models.

“We’re doing this study primarily so that we can engineer this saliva alteration mechanism,” elaborated  Kareem Ahmed, PhD, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Central Florida.

The data suggests that new saliva-thickening candy combined with a face mask could reduce or even eliminate the need for social distancing while we all wait for the vaccine.

Now, thanks to this study, the researchers understand the different ways that our bodies can spread COVID-19 and what needs to be changed to slow the virus transmission. The next step is to team up with an independent company to mass-produce the saliva-altering candy.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Executive Producer; Sabrina Broadbent, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer & Editor.

Contact Us