Mike the Mad Biologist

One thing I like about PLoS ONE is that it has interesting, if not always groundbreaking, science. Consider this article, “Propagation of Respiratory Aerosols by the Vuvuzela” (italics mine):

Vuvuzelas, the plastic blowing horns used by sports fans, recently achieved international recognition during the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament in South Africa. We hypothesised that vuvuzelas might facilitate the generation and dissemination of respiratory aerosols. To investigate the quantity and size of aerosols emitted when the instrument is played, eight healthy volunteers were asked to blow a vuvuzela. For each individual the concentration of particles in expelled air was measured using a six channel laser particle counter and the duration of blowing and velocity of air leaving the vuvuzela were recorded. To allow comparison with other activities undertaken at sports events each individual was also asked to shout and the measurements were repeated while using a paper cone to confine the exhaled air. Triplicate measurements were taken for each individual. The mean peak particle counts were 658×103 per litre for the vuvuzela and 3.7×103 per litre for shouting, representing a mean log10 difference of 2.20 (95% CI: 2.03,2.36; p<0.001). The majority (>97%) of particles captured from either the vuvuzela or shouting were between 0.5 and 5 microns in diameter. Mean peak airflows recorded for the vuvuzela and shouting were 6.1 and 1.8 litres per second respectively. We conclude that plastic blowing horns (vuvuzelas) have the capacity to propel extremely large numbers of aerosols into the atmosphere of a size able to penetrate the lower lung. Some respiratory pathogens are spread via contaminated aerosols emitted by infected persons. Further investigation is required to assess the potential of the vuvuzela to contribute to the transmission of aerosol borne diseases. We recommend, as a precautionary measure, that people with respiratory infections should be advised not to blow their vuvuzela in enclosed spaces and where there is a risk of infecting others.

Laser beams! Actually, I would recommend, as a precautionary measure, that people who don’t want to be bludgeoned within a half-inch of their lives with said vuvuzela should be advised not to blow their vuvuzela in enclosed spaces because it’s really fucking annoying.

Cited article: Lai K-M, Bottomley C, McNerney R, 2011 Propagation of Respiratory Aerosols by the Vuvuzela. PLoS ONE 6(5): e20086. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0020086

Comments

  1. #1 Tex
    May 28, 2011

    Mean peak airflows recorded for the vuvuzela and shouting were 6.1 and 1.8 litres per second respectively

    Really? 6 liters per second sounds waaaay too high. Does any human, even among the highly trained physical specimens that most sports fans are, have lungs with that kind of capacity? And the ability to empty them that fast?

  2. #2 natural cynic
    May 28, 2011

    I second Tex’s criticism. Six liters of air is a lot to be exhaled during the first second of a full-forced exhalation during a pulmonary function test. In fact, it is more than the maximum amount of air that can be expelled in one breath for most people.

    One slightly saving grace: anyone with a pulmonary infection probably will not be using a vuvuzela because it may be painful or make only a pitiful rather than supremely annoying sound.

  3. #3 Kalophon
    May 29, 2011

    My daughter may never forgive me for giving my two grandsons a vuvuzela each last Xmas…..

  4. #4 stripey_cat
    May 29, 2011

    My (6’5″, deep-chested) asthmatic brother has peak flow measurements over 6 when his symptoms are under good control. Playing wind instruments generally increases peak flow. Even if sports fans aren’t *skilled* with a vuvuzela, they’re good at making a lot of noise for a long time – I wouldn’t be surprised if some individuals with large lungs don’t get high readings.

  5. #5 Jeff
    May 30, 2011

    Also remember that this is peak flow, not average. So the volunteers aren’t expelling 6 liters over the course of a second or even 3 liters over the course of a half a second. Normal peak flow for a 35 year old man is over 10 L/sec, but that doesn’t mean their lungs hold 10 liters of air!

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