Medical Mysteries of Music

Still singing “Happy Birthday” when you wash your hands? Yeah, about that…

Early on in the pandemic, we were told that we needed to wash our hands with soap and water for at least twenty seconds. To keep track of time, we’re supposed to sing through “Happy Birthday” once. Seemed helpful. But maybe not.

Scientists at Sweden’s Lund University have spotted a problem. They plotted the trajectories of aerosols ejected by 12 subjects singing different songs to see which ones help spread the virus. They found that songs with lots of consonants sent more droplets into the air.

“Happy Birthday” was especially bad, thanks to the predominance of letters like P and B.

Jakob Löndahl, an associate professor of aerosol technology (who knew there was a such a gig?) says “Different restrictions have been introduced all over the world to make singing safer. [However,] “there has been no scientific investigation of the amount of aerosol particles and larger droplets that we actually exhale when we sing.”

Malin Alsved, an assistant in the study, says “Some droplets are so large that they only move a few decimeters from the mouth before they fall, whereas others are smaller and may continue to hover for minutes. In particular, the enunciation of consonants releases very large droplets and the letters B and P stand out as the biggest aerosol spreaders.”

Singing “Happy Birthday” is still a good time measure for washing your hands. You just might to want to sing in your head, just to be safe.

(Via New York Post)

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37825 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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