Are short people more likely to be infected with the coronavirus?

does height affect coronavirus, a molecule of which can be seen here
Photo via NIH Image Gallery/Flickr (Public Domain)
  • This story is regularly updated for relevance. Last updated: May 4, 2021

Since the pandemic began, scientists have determined that airborne respiratory droplets and smaller aerosols—as in, airborne particles that are more buoyant than droplets—are the primary way COVID-19 spreads. These particles have also been found to be capable of transmitting the virus even when an individual is standing more than six feet away from an infected person. But does your height affect the odds of a coronavirus infection? 

According to researchers in Singapore, shorter people are more likely to contract the coronavirus than taller people.

The peer-reviewed study, published Nov. 3 in the Physics of Fluid journal, conducted a simulation to measure the trajectory of coronavirus droplets when coughed into an outdoor environment. What it found was that large respiratory droplets can travel up to 21 feet, given adequate wind conditions. If the air is dry, those droplets could travel even further, since humidity makes it more difficult for the virus to survive.

However, these larger droplets are also more likely to “settle quickly due to gravity,” according to the study. Yet, smaller aerosols and droplets—which may only travel approximately three feet—can linger in the air for longer periods of time.

When you factor in the trajectory in which these droplets are coughed by an infected individual, it makes sense that height could affect the possibility of a coronavirus infection and that short people would be more at risk for exposure.

“Young children may be at greater risk compared to adults based on the typical downward cough trajectory,” researchers wrote. “Teenagers and short adults are advised to maintain a social distance greater than [two meters, or, six and a half feet] from taller persons. Surgical masks are known to be effective at trapping large droplets and therefore recommended for use as necessary.”

Even though U.S. coronavirus death rates are dropping, new variants of the virus are causing concern. So, it’s a good idea for everyone to continue being extra diligent when it comes to social distancing and masking up. And for those people who happen to be vertically challenged, this goes double.

Sources: BGR, AIP Physics of Fluids

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