Sunday, 7 November 2021

What the heck is a respiratory droplet?

You step outside on a cold, winter day, and you exhale. You see your breath. The cold has condensed the bits of moisture in the exhaled air and formed a mist. When you exhale, you’re not only breathing out air but dampness from your lungs, your mouth, and your windpipe . Those bits of moisture are called respiratory droplets. The important aspect of this phenomenon is that these droplets, having been formed inside your body, can contain infections from your body. These droplets can hang in the air for minutes, even hours. Somebody else, walking by, can inadvertently breath in those droplets, infecting themselves. This is the airborne transmission of infectious diseases.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I watched several videos published by various study groups, demonstrating droplets and their spread, and the effectiveness of masks.


High speed camera captures how different types of face masks work
University of New South Wales, July 27, 2020, YouTube, 1:49
Which mask works best? To visualise droplets and aerosols, UNSW researchers used LED lighting system & a high-speed camera, filming people coughing and sneezing in different scenarios — using no mask, 2 different types of cloth masks, and a surgical mask.


Wearing a mask is not perfect but provides protection to the user. But more importantly, a mask protects other people from a potentially infected (asymptomatic) person. It stops or slows down the spreading of respiratory droplets and consequently, infection. It’s not perfect. Heck, nothing is perfect, but doing something sure beats throwing your hands up and capitulating!

We should have done this years ago
I’ve read several personal accounts of people living in the Far East. People comply with the rules because they have always worn masks. Why? In the Far East, the general attitude is to put the good of the community ahead of your own. Have a cold? Wear a mask. But here in North America, personal freedom outweighs the good of the community. Me first even if I have a cold.

This past year, it’s been reported the annual flu/cold season has been milder. Why? Because more people were wearing masks, reducing the transmission of disease. We all should have been wearing masks decades ago but have come to believe there’s nothing to do to protect ourselves from the common cold.

In January 2018, a colleague at my company called me over to ask for my help. I stood at the door of her office, taking her red nose, weeping eyes, and cough. When I asked her why she wasn’t at home, she told me she had too much work to do so like brave soldier, she came in to get her work done. I said thanks for coming in to infect all of us.

Shortly thereafter, I got sick with the flu. I couldn’t get out of bed for 48 hours and needed two weeks before I was recovered enough to go back to work. There is no doubt my colleague got me sick. If I was still at work (I’m now retired), today, I would go to management and the board and ask for, no, demand a company policy demanding sick people stay at home. A brief Google search turns up that the lost productivity due to sickness adds up to tens of billions of dollars.

Out of sight, out of mind
Except on a cold, winter day,  we can’t see respiratory droplets. We all have a tendency to ignore what we can’t see. On a number of occasions during this pandemic, I looked out my window on a nice, sunny day wondering just where the crisis was. Everything looked all right in the world. But then I looked at the headlines, read the interviews with frontline workers and realised that while my life went on uninterrupted, others were not as fortunate as me. Never mind being hospitalised, I didn’t want to get sick and spoil my good fortune. I chose to be prudent because I believed the authorities. My logic: I would rather be cautious, and it turns out to be not necessary than to not be cautious and get myself into trouble.

40% could have been saved
As of this writing, three quarters of a million people have died from Covid in the United States. On February 11, 2021, The Guardian newspaper reported on a study by a Lancet commission, stating that the U.S. could have averted 40% of deaths if the country had taken a more pro-active approach to dealing with the pandemic. While t**** is not to blame for the pandemic, I believe he, along with Fox News and other media personalities of The Right are criminally negligent for downplaying the severity of the crisis. They’ve all made things worse, especially in convincing a significant percentage of the population to not wear masks and not get vaccinated. Like my co-worker who came into work sick and infected me, none of these people see the consequences of their actions. Their personal inconvenience is more important than my health.

Final Word
It pays to be prudent. It’s better to err on the side of caution. These may seem like platitudes, and you may therefore tend to ignore them, but in the middle of a public health crisis, I think they’re more important than ever. Whenever I hear about an antimasker, I immediately think this person does not know what a respiratory droplet is. The science is there, and the science is clear. Ignoring it is sticking your head in the sand. Not believing it is, well, I could say unfortunate but what I really mean is that it’s unfortunately stupid. The dinosaurs became extinct because of an asteroid. The human race will become extinct because of stupidity.

Personally, I would feel guilty as hell if I found out I was asyptomatic and infected someone. I wear a mask to protect myself but more importantly, I wear a mask to protect others, my family, my friends, and even a stranger in a store. Respiratory droplets are real. Airborne transmission of disease is real. And I'm not living my life in fear; I am merely accepting that at this point in time, taking the necessary measures is the prudent thing to do. As it said in a meme: When I put on oven mitts to take the casserole out of the oven, I'm not afraid of my oven.

We all need to do out part to protect one another. We are all in this together.

You have the right to jeopardize your life, but you have the responsibility to not jeopardize mine.


References

Need more convincing? my blog: Masks: How we hate change - Sep 28/2021

Wikipedia: Respiratory droplet
A respiratory droplet is a small aqueous droplet produced by exhalation, consisting of saliva or mucus and other matter derived from respiratory tract surfaces. Respiratory droplets are produced naturally as a result of breathing, speaking, sneezing, coughing, or vomiting, so they are always present in our breath, but speaking and coughing increases their number.

WebMD: What Are Airborne Diseases?
Airborne diseases are bacteria or viruses that are most commonly transmitted through small respiratory droplets. These droplets are expelled when someone with the airborne disease sneezes, coughs, laughs, or otherwise exhales in some way. These infectious vehicles can travel along air currents, linger in the air, or cling to surfaces, where they are eventually inhaled by someone else.

Airborne transmission can occur over relatively long distances and spans of time. If you go into the bathroom that someone coughed in minutes before, it could be a danger. This makes it possible for airborne diseases to infect larger numbers of people and more difficult to determine the causes due to a lack of person-to-person contact.

Airborne transmission has varying capabilities. Airborne diseases can travel distances greater than 6 feet and remain infectious in the air from minutes to hours. This largely depends on the type of ventilation and preventative measures inside the building.


Mayo Clinic: How well do face masks protect against coronavirus?
Can face masks help slow the spread of the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19? Yes. Face masks combined with other preventive measures, such as getting vaccinated, frequent hand-washing and physical distancing, can help slow the spread of the virus.

YouTube: Droplets from speaking caught on high speed cameras - from Japanese study on micro droplets (5:34)
Fast Life Hack Clips, Apr 4, 2020: from NHK World Japan
In the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, a new research reveals how tiny droplets carrying the virus can remain in the air for some time.


YouTube: Infrared video shows the risks of airborne coronavirus spread | Visual Forensics (6:12)
The Washington Post, Dec 11, 2020
To visually illustrate the risk of airborne transmission in real time, The Washington Post used a military-grade infrared camera capable of detecting exhaled breath


YouTube: How Well Do Masks Work? (Schlieren Imaging In Slow Motion!) (8:20)
It's Okay to be Smart, Jul 4, 2020
Wearing a mask is a cheap and easy way to help stop the spread of airborne infections like COVID-19. It’s also a sign that you want to help protect other people and have them protect you… that we’re all in this together. Here are some awesome slow-motion schlieren imaging experiments to demonstrate why masks work!



2021-11-07

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