Flu Prevention: Why Are Adults Still Sneezing into Their Hands?

Your average kindergartner knows the proper way to prevent germs from spreading. So why won't adults get with the program?

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Nothing quite gets under the skin like a young child pointing out the negative impact of your incandescent lightbulbs and idling car, but in the midst of a virulent flu season and the worst whooping-cough outbreak in 60 years, it’s worth listening to the righteous army of lilliputian surgeon generals. These tiny troopers are the advance guard against phlegm; they know how to stop germs in their tracks. Hand-sanitizer breaks are routine in elementary schools, and when there isn’t time to grab a Kleenex, children use a strategically placed elbow across the mouth instead. 

(MORE: Flu Cases Raise Public-Health Concerns)

Walk into any pre-K or elementary classroom in the U.S. and you’ll be surprised to see that kids don’t cough or sneeze into their hands anymore. It’s simply not done, and it’s easy to see why. Coughing or sneezing directly into a hand that subsequently touches food, money or other people is clearly a recipe for contagion. The real wonder is that people failed for so many years to spot this simple truth. A typical sneeze can travel 100 m.p.h. and spew countless germs into the air. One study found that viruses can survive much longer on objects like dollar bills than originally thought, particularly when found in high concentrations like those from a single sneeze.

The nation’s health experts have been recommending for years that people not sneeze or cough into their hands but cover their mouth or nose with a tissue instead (which they are advised to quickly dispose of and follow with 20 seconds of vigorous hand washing). Four years ago, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called out a reporter during a briefing to rebuke him for improper sneezing etiquette, demonstrating the proper technique with her elbow. Sesame Street has taught millions of children the hygienic way to sneeze and cough.

So why haven’t American adults been getting with the program? Boston is the center of medical excellence, with more physicians per capita in Massachusetts than in any other state and some of the world’s finest medical schools. Yet with a flu epidemic under way, adults can still be seen all over the city spraying their potentially contagious droplets on subway seats and restaurant menus. Hospitals are beginning to require masks for people who show up sick to ERs. Seasonal flu kills thousands each year, according to the CDC, and leaves many hundreds of thousands more temporarily incapacitated and unable to work, yet adults who disregard the basics of virus prevention seem to have the hubris to believe they aren’t susceptible to illness and thus can’t harm others. (The flu vaccine, while highly recommended, is only 62% effective at reducing symptoms, say health officials.)

(MORE: Have We Become Too Obsessed with “Energy”?)

Or they may simply be misinformed. As infant mortality dropped in the early part of the 20th century and childhood vaccines began to eliminate many life-threatening diseases, people grew increasingly cavalier about germs, and a whole culture of nursing care and commonsense prevention was lost. (How many people still wash their hands every single time they eat?)

Parents have long refined the art of “Do as I say, not as I do,” but in this case it may be more than just routine hypocrisy. Is it simply too hard to teach an old dog new tricks? Kathleen Sebelius certainly has her work cut out for her, and we may very well need more public-service announcements targeting older adults. But if 5-year-olds can learn how to sneeze properly, surely we can expect their elders to master it too.

247 comments
JenniferCartonMeyer
JenniferCartonMeyer

I'm also more likely to catch something by putting my hands to my mouth when sneezing than spreading something by sneezing into my hands! I'd also like to give a shout out to the people who cough or sneeze into my face, or cough into their hand before handing me money, or leave their snotty Kleenex lying around for me to pick up. Trust me, a bucket full of bleach water is your friend!

JenniferCartonMeyer
JenniferCartonMeyer

Most adults sneeze into their hands because THAT is what they were taught in Kindergarten! I have retaught myself, but no matter how hard I try, I can not reach the crook of my arm! I sneeze into my armpit (and pray I don't spew snot into my shirt)

....then completely feel the need to wash my hands because I know WITHOUT A DOUBT that the people who heard me sneeze (but did not see me) are of the generation who sneezed into their hands AND washed them afterwards!

smartyclever
smartyclever

  BLOODY HELL!!!!!! MAJOR ON MINOR THINGS..... AMERICAN PEOPLE ARE TOXICATED WITH ALL THESE... RUBBISH!!!!!!!F] GO AND DIE LA IF YOU ARE REALLY AFRAID OF GEMS.... IDIOT!!!!!! YOU THOUGHT YOU VERY CLEAN MEH?? CHINA PEOPLE COUGH AND SNEEZE WITHOUT ANY COVERING... WHY INCONVENIENT YOURSELF.. 

smartyclever
smartyclever

FYI, GEMS DONT LIVE IN DRY ENVIRONMENT. ONCE THE SNEEZ IS OUT.. IT DRIES EASILY.... DUMB!!!

smartyclever
smartyclever

AND ALLERGY SNEEZE DOES NOT CONTAIN GEMS OR VIRUS.. STUPID IDIOT!!!!

smartyclever
smartyclever

WHEN WE SNEEZE ONTO OUR HANDS.. IT IS CONSIDER GOOD ALREADY... OUR HANDS TOUCH EVERYWHERE SPREAD GERMS??? DONT MAKE ME LAUGH... THE AIR HAS MORE GERMS THAN WE KNOW.. YOU ARE JUST TOO CLEAN FREAK.. STUPID!!! NOTHING BETTER WRITE.. 

CindyKoh
CindyKoh

AND WHAT'S WRONG IN USING HANDS WHEN YOU SNEEZE... THAT'S A;WAYS THE USUAL WAY.AND THE FASTEST COVERAGE.... STUPID EDITOR WHO WRITE THESE.. YOU HAVE NOTHING BETTER TO DO RIGHT??

GERMS ARE EVERYWHERE.. WHY DONT YOU HIDE AT HOME AND DONT COME OUT.. 

LET ME STRESS AGAIN, IF YOU HAVE ALLERGY, YOU WILL NOT SPREAD TO OTHERS!!!!! OUTSIDE AIR HAS MORE GERM THAN YOUR BODY... IF YOU DO NOT HAVE THAT KNOWLEDGE, STOP WRITING USELESS ARTICLE!!!


CindyKoh
CindyKoh

@  @COEXIST STUPIDITY WHAT EXHALE... STUPID IDEA.. GOD CREATED US TO SNEEZE..... JUST SNEEZE IF YOU ARE ALLERGIC... WHO CARES ABOUT GERMS... GERMS ARE EVERYWHERE IF YOU ARE AFRAID, JUST HIDE IN YOUR CAVE. IF IT NOT FLU, IT IS NOT CONTANGIOUS AT ALL.. IDIOT!!!

CindyKoh
CindyKoh

STUPIDITY..... JUST SNEEZE... WHO CARES ABOUT GERMS... GERMS ARE EVERYWHERE IF YOU ARE AFRAID, JUST HIDE IN YOUR CAVE IF YOU ARE AFRAID.. WHO IS QUICK ENOUGH TO GET TISSUE TO SNEEZE.. . IF IT NOT FLU, IT IS NOT CONTAGIOUS AT ALL.. IDIOT!!!

ewcollins
ewcollins

I no longer shake hands, and I simply say that I do not want to spread the flu. Most people are not offended and many say, "Thank you".

I always pay with a credit card, no matter how small the amount, so I do not have to touch any money.

EnticingHavoc
EnticingHavoc

Why Are Adults Still Sneezing into Their Hands?

I once tried to sneeze into my feet. It was a very unsuccessful try. Concluding from passengers passing by I assume I looked a bit comical.

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

Americans are a naturally stupid people... Do not get me wrong here ` The WW2 generation was the peak product of what American and produce in the product of 'people'


Ever since then we crank out generations of morons whom are either uneducated or indoctrinated in their silly faith.


Nothing more pathetic than the Evangelical Trash out west proclaiming the world is 6000 years old and that Evolution is a lis... (Of course their counter proposal is that God created life with a flash and puff of smoke and hence bunnies, and deer, and Triceratops) - As long as you have such people with rotten turds for brains reproducing and scrambling their kid's brains into more turds you are going to see down kill innovation and thinking in this country ---- And religion is the chief disease responsible.

DuaneAllen
DuaneAllen

The telling fact is, Americans have become numbed and complacent (which is to put it kindly), and demonstrate an absolute lack of consideration, about health matters and public etiquette to their fellow citizens. Personal hygiene and cleanliness are the last things on most peoples minds as being important to having a healthy self... much less a healthy social environment in which to live and raise their children. There need to be continuous PSAs on radio, TV and internet reminding and teaching people good and responsible habits and behaviors, including with those oriented to children, for the exact same reasons McDonald's and Walmart continuously advertise... its not that people don't know about them, its because people don't think. 

TinkerBell
TinkerBell

Sorry but the comment about how many people still wash their hands before they eat? was  a stupid question to ask. I swear that is how my family stays healthy! Maybe everyone should wash their hands with regular soap not anti B. If my kids go to the grocery store with me the 1st thing they have to do is wash their hands!!! COMMON SENSE PEOPLE

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

I have yet to encounter a child who tells me about, "the negative impact of your incandescent lightbulbs and idling car."

Furthermore, as a teacher across NJ and PA, I have yet to walk into a district that had "Sneeze Into Your Sleeve"-type programs.  While a few do, it is by no means a majority.  That's why the author's "Walk into any pre-K or elementary classroom in the U.S. and you’ll be surprised to see that kids don’t cough or sneeze into their hands anymore" statement is an over-generalization.

While I do not dispute the health benefits of the machines, I would encourage the author to get a more diverse perspective on just how effective they are on a daily basis.

JackieNichols
JackieNichols

I refuse to become a germaphobe.  I do not sneeze into my elbow or down my shirt.  I do not get flu shots.  I do not use hand sanitizers every 15 minutes or sanitize my workstation each day as I see my co-workers doing.  I wash my hands when I touch something disgusting or after using the bathroom, but not before each and every time that I eat (it wouldn't make much sense since I'm a nail biter and my fingers are in my mouth all the time anyway - disgusting habit, I know, but one that I cannot seem to break).  I can't even remember the last time that I was sick.  It seems to me that the people who spend the most time worrying about germs and sanitizing themselves and everything around them are the people who are sick the most.  I think that their immune systems have forgotten how to do the job it was designed to do.

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

I have yet to encounter a child who tells me about, "the negative impact of your incandescent lightbulbs and idling car."


mrbomb13
mrbomb13

TIME Magazine...what do you mean by malformed content??

cyril.yared1
cyril.yared1

A typical sleeve goes at 35 mph, proven by mythbusters episode Flu Fiction.

PolarBear18
PolarBear18

I don't sneeze into my elbow because I don't want lipstick/makeup on my clothes.  I also don't want nose spray & snot on my work clothes all day either.   That's why I don't do it.

RachaelHarven
RachaelHarven

tHE ELBOW SNEEZE is stoopid.  You sneeze into your elbow and your elbow bumps others all day and then at night when you wash your clothes it goes right in you mouth with the rest of your shirt.  boooo.  you should sneeze under your shit and all over your chest, unless you are a female soccer champion inclined to do chest bumps.

DocDeckard
DocDeckard

You know you're talking about the same adults that can't figure out how to operate a turn signal, right? I'll bet it wouldn't take 10 seconds of watching you drive before I'd be horrified by your habits and (lack of) skills. This is what happens when an expert watches a novice. Even if someone taught you what you're doing wrong, you probably just wouldn't find it important enough to change (Free hint: Stop looking at the speedometer). Yet bad driving kills a lot more people than flu in this country.

moronkiller
moronkiller

"The flu vaccine...is only 62 percent affective at reducing symptoms..." Excuse me, "affective"? And this is written by an M. Ed. This is pathetic. When "educated" people misspell and misuse the language, we are all in trouble.

catbaxgonzalez
catbaxgonzalez

What an idiotic article. Since H1N1, we´ve been told over and over to sneeze or cough into elbows. Quite frankly, I think that there is too much "cleaning" going on. My grandparents raised 11 barefoot children, one with polio and the rest now dying from cancer and such at ages 90+. We overclean our children. I am NOT against hand washing. tissues, and sneezing into one's elbow, but geez. Live a little and you may live longer.





















+

JustTrustMe2
JustTrustMe2

Sneeze into your shirt. Open the your collar of the shirt put your nose in and sneeze. Simple fix.

DariusJones
DariusJones

Yes, it's true - when I was a kid we didn't follow a decontamination protocol every time we sneezed. But then again, we weren't allergic to peanuts, shellfish, sunshine and our own skin. Today's kids are so sterilized and sanitized that they can be killed by someone eating a Snickers bar three blocks away.

COEXIST
COEXIST

I had an allergist explain to me that when I feel the urge to sneeze, EXHALE before the sneeze.  That way it looses it's power. 

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

@Hadrewsky

You, sir, have no idea what you're talking about.  Would you care to provide any peer-reviewed (scholarly) journal articles that prove:

1) "Americans are a naturally stupid people"

2) "The WW2 generation was the peak product of what American and produce in the product of 'people'"

3) "Ever since then we crank out generations of morons whom are either uneducated or indoctrinated in their silly faith."

4) "Nothing more pathetic than the Evangelical Trash out west proclaiming the world is 6000 years old and that Evolution is a lis..[?]"

5) That religious people have "rotten turds" for brains.

6) That such 'turds,' "scrambling their kid's brains into more turds."

7) That innovation and thinking will be "killed" in America - DESPITE the fact that as religion in the US has declined, innovations like the iPod, smartphone, hydrogen fuel-cell cars, etc. have made America a most innovative country.

8) That "religion is the chief disease responsible."

Unless you can provide sufficient, objective evidence (and NOT your own personal bias, prejudice, emotional subjective feelings), than every single one of your claims is flat-out invalid and unsubstantiated.



mrbomb13
mrbomb13

@DuaneAllen 

Please provide studies/statistics to support your claim.  Otherwise, everything you've just said is based upon your own personal experience.  In other words, your comment amounts to limited anecdotal evidence that is prejudiced by your surroundings, interactions, etc..  

helenahandbasket
helenahandbasket

@mrbomb13 - My five-year-old kid does sneeze or cough into her sleeve. Why? Because I taught her to. I think the author's point is that parents need to get educated and play a role. Parents also need to not send their sick kids to school (assuming the parents can take sick days, which is another topic entirely.)

JenniferCartonMeyer
JenniferCartonMeyer

@PolarBear18 I also don't want your nose spray and snot on.......any part of me! I wonder how far sneeze snot travels? I'd rather have my own snot on me than someone else's. If I can handle it in my nose.....where I'm probably smelling it and swallowing it.....I think I can handle it on the clothes that I will wash at the end of the day!

JenniferCartonMeyer
JenniferCartonMeyer

@RachaelHarven HELLO!!!???? I am from the planet earth, what planet are you from? If you are sneezing onto your elbow, instead of the inside "crook" of your elbow, you need to join Cirque du Soleil RIGHT NOW! I can't recall the last time I "bumped elbows" with someone.....let alone the crook of my arm! As a matter of fact although I am NOT a soccer champion I am pretty sure that I am more likely to chest bump someone during sex than to "elbow bump someone" EVER! AND I'm pretty sure that washing your clothes doesn't cause the germs to get in your mouth unless you are licking them clean!

chrismo69
chrismo69

@RachaelHarven Sneeze under your what?!? IF you meant "shirt", then that's what I do too. I do that so I don't have snot on my shirt in the crook of my elbow all day. I'm not seeing how the crook of your elbow is bumping others all day, unless you ride the subway or similar public transportation. And how is the fabric of your blouse covering the crook of your elbow going into your mouth when you take it off? Very strange...

JenniferCartonMeyer
JenniferCartonMeyer

@DocDeckard People know how to operate a turn signal! Some of them just think they are too important to do so! Those are the people who sneeze right in your face!

NaveedXVO
NaveedXVO

@moronkiller It's a simple mistake. You need more real life problems. Turn life onto hard mode, cut a limb off, set fire to your car or gamble away your entire life savings. 

smartyclever
smartyclever

@COEXIST STUPIDITY WHAT EXHALE... STUPID IDEA.. GOD CREATED US TO SNEEZE..... JUST SNEEZE IF YOU ARE ALLERGIC... WHO CARES ABOUT GERMS... GERMS ARE EVERYWHERE IF YOU ARE AFRAID, JUST HIDE IN YOUR CAVE. IF IT NOT FLU, IT IS NOT CONTANGIOUS AT ALL.. IDIOT!!!

JenniferCartonMeyer
JenniferCartonMeyer

@helenahandbasket @mrbomb13 Keeping your kids or yourself at home while sick is just not feasible! My colds last for WEEKS! What company offers "weeks" of sick pay....if any? I know you are only contagious for so long, but there is no way I OR my employer can afford for me to miss 3-5 days 3-4 times a year. Not only that.....most people will find that while they were trying to contain their sickness, others weren't considerate and passed it around anyways!

moronkiller
moronkiller

@NaveedXVO @moronkiller 

We all need more "real-life" problems. You, too. But your reply was funny, in its own way. You get a gold star for that.

DocDeckard
DocDeckard

@MatthewLindsley And perhaps more importantly, I'm not really trying to make the argument that one is worse than the other. My core point was that people always look like idiots to an expert.