If you’re grossed out by a classmate or sibling who is constantly picking their noses, even when you beg them to stop, scientists may have finally found an argument to break the habit: it might give you pneumonia.
Pneumococcus, the bacteria that causes pneumonia - a lung condition that can prove deadly if untreated - is known to spread through airborne droplets, often from the coughs and sneezes of infected individuals.
British scientists said on Thursday that they had proved for the first time that the disease-causing bacteria can be transmitted manually via the nose and hands.
In a trial, the results of which were published in the European Respiratory Journal, a group of adult volunteers had the bacteria applied to their hands.
They were then given the unenviable choice of four tasks: “wet sniff”, “dry sniff”, “wet poke”, and “dry poke” designed to mimic everyday actions that see people touch or rummage around inside their noses.
“This study has shown that the hands can spread this bacteria as well and objects like mobile phones or children’s toys could also be adding to the spread of this bacteria,” Victoria Connor, a clinical research fellow at Britain’s Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and Royal Liverpool Hospital, said.
Participants in the study were just as likely to get the bacteria in their noses whether they were exposed to wet or dry pneumococcus samples, said the researchers.
But the total amount transmitted was higher in the “wet sniff” and “wet poke” groups, suggesting that the process of drying out may kill some of the bacteria.
The disease is especially serious for little kids: globally, pneumonia kills an estimated 1.3 million infants under five each year.
Connor admitted: “It might not be realistic to get [people] to stop picking, poking and rubbing their noses.” But, she added, “ensuring good hand hygiene and cleaning of toys or surfaces would likely reduce transmission, and reduce the risk of developing pneumococcal infection such as pneumonia.”