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New York Times: Sneeze into your elbow, not your hand, please

sneeze into elbow
By Daniel Victor

When you feel a sneeze or a cough coming on, covering your mouth prevents the spread of infectious germs. You probably knew that.

But the way you cover up also matters, and there are plenty of people who haven’t yet heard the consensus guidance of health officials: If no tissue is available, you should aim into your elbow, not your hand. Even if that means breaking a long-held habit.

“If somebody sneezes into their hands, that creates an opportunity for those germs to be passed on to other people, or contaminate other objects that people touch,” said Dr. Vincent Hill, chief of the waterborne disease prevention branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Germs are most commonly spread by the respiratory droplets emitted from sneezing and coughing. When they land on your hands, they’re transmitted to things like door knobs, elevator buttons and other surfaces the people around you are likely to also touch.

This isn’t just us nagging. Sneezing and coughing into your arm has become the standard suggestion of not just the C.D.C., but also organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Public Health Association. Even the New York City subway system occasionally runs an announcement asking riders to “cough or sneeze into the bend of your arm or use a tissue.”

Mary Anne Jackson, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, said the term “cough etiquette” first turned up in 2000, and she traced the suggestion to sneeze into your arm to 2003, when SARS fears were widespread. It gained further prominence in 2009, when the H1N1 swine flu pandemic struck the United States.


Read the full article via the New York Times.

Learn more about the services offered through the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children's Mercy.