Research shows how some people may be ‘super spreaders’ from the way they sneeze

ORLANDO,Fla. — Researchers said some people’s coughs or sneezes may spread COVID-19 more easily than others, and it all depends on your saliva and your teeth.

In a first-of-its-kind study, University of Central Florida researchers looked at what makes a potential “super spreader.”

Six feet, 13 feet, even 27 feet - all theories we’ve heard about how far COVID-19 can travel in a cough or sneeze.

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Yet for a group of UCF researchers, something was missing in the data.

“These artificial sneezes don’t include all the complicated networks that are really involved in a human body,” said UCF researcher Dr. Michael Kinzel.

Kinzel and his team decided to look at whether physical characteristics can influence virus transmission.

With computerized 3D modeling, they simulated the many ways fluid flies out of a nose and mouth - and ended up surprised.

“I did not expect things to be so sensitive,” Kinzel said.


In general, thicker saliva falls to the ground ending its threat, while thinner droplets float and contaminate the air. Results showed different factors can more than double that distance.

“If somebody is congested, and you don’t blow your nose, it may lead to essentially about 60% further sneeze,” Kinzel said.

That’s also true for your teeth, no matter how great they look.

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Channel 9 ran a garden hose to show how teeth can actually propel saliva. When you use a thumb to block the stream, you get that strong jet that just sprays everywhere.

“Your teeth basically close your mouth in the path and that it leads to a higher velocity that travels further,” Kinzel said.

Given all this, who are the “super spreaders?”

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Kinzel said because men tend to have thinner saliva than women, they take the title. Younger people are a close second. But while the research found our bodies work against some of us, it also suggests the opposite.

“When people get ill or stressed, they naturally have thicker saliva, so we might even physically respond in a way that helps prevent airborne pathogen transmission. It’s kind of a cool first study that can lead to a lot of new areas,” Kinzel said.

The researchers are developing a type of cough drop. It works like a “mask” inside your mouth to help thicken saliva so that there’s nothing to spray out. It could be on the market by the end of the year.