Saturday, January 24, 2009


All microbiologists will agree that sneezing, spitting, coughing and burping in public places with no consideration for fellow citizens can have consequences unforeseen by those with the compulsive habit of doing it. Human body is a store house of hundreds of microorganisms, some harmless and others pathogenic. The pathogenesis of body excretions depends on individuals and if one is carrying an infectious disease the damage to the environment can be very serious. 500 to 1000 bacterial species live in human body and the oral cavity itself can be home to not less than 25 different species. Therefore response to such urges, especially in public places, must be such that those nearby are not affected and inconvenienced in any way.

Sneezing can be triggered by sudden exposure to bright light, full stomach, unexpected climatic changes like temperature and humidity, allergic exposures like dust and smoke. It is also called sternulation which is semi autonomous convulsive expulsion of air from the lungs, most probably caused by foreign particles irritating the nasal mucosa. During sneezing aerosol droplets 0.5-5 microns in size are shot like a rocket at high speeds, 42 meter per second (150 km/hour) into the atmosphere within 5 ft of the person committing this act. It is estimated that about 40000 such particles are thrown out per sneeze and in a closed space like that in a bus or a train, about 150 people can be infected besides others getting exposed to the germs from the walls, roofs, floors,windows, doors and other surfaces nearby. On an average, a person may sneeze about 200 times an year, almost once in two days and it could be more if the environmental conditions and personal health are not normal. How can one avoid sneezing in the public when there is an uncontrollable urge to do so?. It is believed that the urge can be inhibited by applying strong pressure to the region immediately below the nose using the index finger. If sneezing cannot be avoided at all, using a kerchief or a paper towel or one's sari end can be helpful to cover the mouth or one can sneeze into the elbow which will restrict the escape of the fluid particles into the open atmosphere. Using hands is not recommended because hands do not absorb mucus and germs can be transferred when hands are used for any purpose.

Spitting or expectoration in the public is another habit getting ingrained amongst Indians and even youngsters are not immune to this shameful act that is polluting our roads and public places indiscriminately. These days walking in crowded streets requires great alertness to escape from some one walking ahead spitting for no obvious reason or a mouthful of sputum landing on you from a speeding bus. About 10-25 ml of saliva spit from a person contains many bacteria, virus and other undesirable substances and it is estimated that just one ml of saliva can contain as high as 40 million bacteria! If the saliva originates from a sick person the magnitude of damage can be much higher to the public. Pneumonia and tuberculosis are spread through the saliva and it is in the national interest that this public nuisance is eliminated at any cost. Providing spittoons does not solve the problem since they can pose much more danger if not maintained properly. It is beyond comprehension as to why one has to spit at all, that too in public and why cannot it be swallowed. Whether our food habits have some thing to do with this urge to spit frequently and where ever one feels like doing it can be a fit subject for some scientific studies. The excuse that in India the public comfort stations where one can satisfy the natural urges are far and few leading to this 'epidemic' is not acceptable to honest and decent citizens of this country who have every right to seek a clean environment to live without being affected by the unacceptable behavior of fellow citizens.

We also have public display of 'burping', 'yawning', 'coughing', forceful 'exhalation' from the nose, all being witnessed in our every day life and many helpless citizens take them in their stride having no alternative but to bear them. However such behavior cannot be condoned under any excuse and lot of responsibility is vested with the parents and the schools to mold the behavior of children to become normal citizens of tomorrow. Unless this undesirable habit is curbed through a national program of high priority, this country will achieve the dubious distinction of being the greatest 'spitters' on earth!


1 comment:

Dr. V.H . Potty said...

The latest news regarding the potential for sneezing to cause obesity is indeed disturbing. Some believe that an air borne adenovirus that also causes coughs, sore throats, diarrhea and conjuctivitis can make fat cells multiply leading to weight gain. During sneezing millions of such viruses are thrown into the atmosphere and people within the vicinity are vulnerable to the infection by this particular virus strain. A scary thought indeed!