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You won’t believe what happens when a person in an airplane sneezes

Trying to decide whether to drive or fly home for the holidays this year? This simulation of what happens when a person sneezes in an airplane may make up your mind for you. Ugh.

I once made a cross-Atlantic flight with a friend who was having major stomach problems. While she managed to contain all her bodily fluids to the barf bag or the bathroom, her “purple burps” wafted throughout the cabin, reminding us all she was still sick (poor thing). I tell you this not to make you dry heave, but to say that I have experienced lots of gross things on airplanes and so a simple sneeze doesn’t even faze me. Well, it didn’t until today.

In the wake of Ebola and the start of flu season (also known as the disease that kills way more people than Ebola, but gets way less press), researchers at the FAA Centers of Excellence at Purdue University created a video showing exactly what happens after someone sneezes in an airplane. The results will hang like a cloud over your head — literally and metaphorically.

Thanks to the force at which they’re expelled — and the inability of the obviously socially illiterate animated person to remember to cover their mouth — the little red and blue germ dots go up in a cloud before drenching the people to the immediate left and right and the poor folks right behind before being circulated throughout the cabin.

“You can measure the dispersion of a sneeze up to 50 feet. They really can spread a fair distance,” said Ian Henderson, Ph.D., professor of microbial biology at the University of Birmingham’s School of Immunity and Infection in an interview with Daily Mail. “Anyone who is sitting close to an infected person will come into contact with that pathogen.”

But, despite the gross-out factor of watching cartoon germs rain like confetti, the researchers say not to panic and cancel your flight plans yet. There are germs everywhere and according to Henderson, airplanes are even cleaner than places like your office or a movie theater. So, whether or not you get sick depends on a lot of things besides just exposure. For instance, the stronger your immune system, the less likely the bugs are to take hold, so forget New Year’s, perhaps now is a good time to start exercising and eating healthier!

“People shouldn’t be terrified to leave their home. It’s almost impossible not to come into contact with microbes. You can’t avoid it, even at home. We come into contact with thousands of microbes without becoming ill every day,” Henderson cautions, adding, “The best way to not get infected is to get vaccinated. If there’s a vaccine, get it.”

Maybe, next, the researchers can make a video of the dispersal of rotten-egg belches throughout an airplane cabin. On second thought, let’s not. What’s the grossest thing you’ve ever seen on a plane?

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