Live Long and Master Aging podcast



How did I get this cold?

Lydia Bourouiba: Disease transmission researcher, MIT

The sudden onset of a common cold or the flu can stop us in our tracks. Seasonal outbreaks of infectious diseases can be both debilitating and irritating, especially for those people who strive to live a healthy lifestyle. But are they inevitable? Lydia Bourouiba is the director of the Fluid Dynamics of Disease Transmission Laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Her work involves trying to better understand the role that sneezes play in the spread of infections. She focusses, not only on the common cold, but as-yet-unknown diseases that could have widespread and devastating consequences, were they to get out of control. In this LLAMA podcast interview, recorded at TEDMED, professor Bourouiba explains how we are all vulnerable to infectious diseases – and probably more than we realize. She also dissects the anatomy the sneeze – how far it can go and how long it can linger.

Published on: 4 Feb 2019 @ 17:23 PT


Connect with Prof. Bourouiba:  The Bourouiba research group | Bio |

Recorded at TEDMED.

In this interview we explore:

  • How colds are transmitted.
  • Why, no matter how healthy we are, we are all vulnerable to infectious diseases.
  • Living in dense populations and the implications for the spread of disease.
  • How Dr. Bourouiba studies the mechanics of sneezing.
If, for example, we leave this room, in 10 minutes we can still have a footprint of our presence, in terms of pathogens if we were infected.”
  • Why droplet size matters.
  • What happens during “exhalation events” and why our sneezes are different.
  • Why some of us are more likely to transmit infections than others.
  • Multi year studies to better understand the spread of colds and flu.
  • How far can infectious droplets from a sneeze travel in a train cabin?
“The range of the smaller drops trapped in this cloud can span an entire cabin.”
  • Do masks work to prevent the spread of a virus?
  • How big is the threat of another influenza pandemic?
“It Is clear now that there are certain pathogens for which we still will not have a vaccine for the next 30 to 50 years and so we need to be proactive.”
  • How effective are flu vaccines?
  • How far should we go to avoid infections ?

“Living in a totally sterile bubble could be counterproductive … because we need to also train our immune system to react to the daily threats.”

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