The MythBusters The MythBusters

MythBusters Episode 147: Flu Fiction

Premier Date: June 9, 2010

A sneeze can leave a person’s nose/mouth at 100 mph (160 km/h).


Adam and Jamie used snuff to irritate their mucous membranes and force themselves to sneeze. Droplets from Adam’s and Jamie’s sneezes traveled at 35 mph (56 km/h) and 39 mph (63 km/h), respectively.

Droplets from a sneeze can travel up to a distance of 30 ft (9.1 m).


To get a visual indication of distance, Adam mixed cherry drink powder into the snuff and sneezed over a 30-foot-long strip of white paper. When this method failed to show any marks, he and Jamie tried drinking a small amount of food coloring just before sneezing. This idea worked, giving a maximum distance of 17 ft (5.2 m) for Adam and 13 ft (4.0 m) for Jamie.

Nasal secretions from a person with a cold can spread so far and so quickly that anyone in the vicinity can become contaminated.


Adam and Jamie consulted with an otolaryngologist and learned that a person with a cold may secrete up to 60 milliliters of mucus per hour. Jamie built a rig from a syringe and tubing to match that drip rate with fluorescent dye, and Adam wore it by his nose as he did model-building work. After one hour, he and everything he had touched were stained with the dye.

They then set up a party for Adam to host, with three “germaphobe” guests (Kari, Grant, and Tory, who were briefed to try to avoid contact with Adam) and three unsuspecting ones. Thirty minutes later, Adam, the whole table, and every guest except Kari – who admitted that she actually was a germaphobe – were heavily contaminated. In a second experiment in which Adam consciously did his best to avoid physical contact, all six guests came up clean.

Adam and Jamie declared the myth confirmed at this point, commenting that a healthy person would find it very difficult to avoid being contaminated by a sick one who did not attempt to keep from spreading his/her germs.

Tornado-force winds can propel window glass with enough speed to decapitate a person.


Kari and Tory obtained a pig spine with skin and muscle, trimmed it down to resemble an elongated neck, and attached a dummy head. The Build Team then obtained several 1/8 inch (3.2 mm) thick glass panes that conformed to building codes for houses in tornado-prone areas, and began throwing them at “Neck Man” by hand. They had difficulty reaching a suitable combination of speed and accuracy; none of their throws inflicted more than a minor wound.

Tory then built a frame to attach to a pickup truck, with a heavy 14.3 lb (6.5 kg) glass sheet loosely mounted to hit Neck Man edge-on but break loose just before impact. The first attempt, at 80 mph (129 km/h) – the equivalent kinetic energy of a light pane traveling 300 mph (483 km/h) in an F5 tornado – sliced the head off. A second test at 40 mph (64 km/h) (150 mph (241 km/h) for a light pane in a less powerful F2 tornado) also cut completely through the neck. However, the glass did not break out of its holder, indicating that the momentum of the truck may have affected the result.

Back at the workshop, the team built a rig to throw 1/4 inch (6.4 mm) thick panes (twice as heavy as the original ones) at 70 mph (113 km/h). After several tries, they were able to score a hit that completely and cleanly severed the head, leading them to declare the myth confirmed.