A True Viral Video: Spreading Germs is Easy

If we could see how easy it is to spread the germs that make us sick, measures such as hand hygiene and surface disinfection might improve by leaps and bounds. In the animated video, “The Sneeze: How Germs are Spread,” Francois Chew and Ruby Petersen Unger help us visualize germ transmission and infection through a series of common events as guests gather for a party.

As the video begins, germs are portrayed as steadily multiplying in a human mouth until they are explosively launched by a sneeze onto the person’s hand. Germs and mucous are vividly depicted as a splat of green slime sullying the hand. The hand proceeds to deliver a subset of its microscopic population to a doorknob as the sneezer enters the house. Germs lurking on the doorknob are then easily transferred to the next guest to arrive at the gathering. Their passage into the house quickly results in the contamination of a tray of party food.
Chew and Petersen Unger’s video can help us remain mindful of how readily germs are transferred by hand contact to frequently touched surfaces. This is one “viral” video that should be shared widely as we enter the cold and flu season.

To help prevent the spread of germs:

  1. Get your seasonal flu vaccination, aka “flu shot:” According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, the flu vaccine represents the single best strategy for preventing flu.
  2. Stay home if you are sick: This is a simple courtesy to others.
  3. Avoid sneezing into your hands: Use disposable tissues, if available, and discard used tissues; thoroughly wash hands after using tissues. If tissues are unavailable, sneeze instead into the crook of your elbow.
  4. Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, especially during cold and flu season: Door knobs, sink faucets, toilet handles, hand rails and other commonly touched surfaces can be cleaned and then wiped down with disinfectants, such as a dilute solution of ordinary household chlorine bleach.

Simple Chlorine Bleach Surface Disinfectant*

1/4 cup ordinary household chlorine bleach

1 gallon cool water

Mix bleach and water and apply to surfaces. Leave wet for 10 minutes, then rinse.

*Make solutions daily, as bleach loses effectiveness over time. Never combine ammonia-containing products with chlorine bleach.

Joan Rose, PhD, is the Homer Nowlin Chair in Water Research at Michigan State University and a member of the Water Quality and Health Council.

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