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.





















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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. 

HenrytheHand
HenrytheHand

Dr. Will Sawyer andHenrythe Hand Foundation is dedicated to teaching people about the 4 Principles of Hand Awareness, which is proper hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette and cross contamination awareness and have been endorsed by the AMA and AAFP. To learn more websitewww.henrythehand.com

ShawnArscott
ShawnArscott

Flunearyou.org show very few flu cases. What's up Doc?

TerryCantor
TerryCantor

Dr. Christakis:  With your credentials I am reluctant to make even a minor correction, but the plural of "surgeon general" is "surgeons general".  I support all the suggestions you make and will try to follow them.  Stay healthy, Terry

JPake
JPake

When sick, we should wear surgical face masks like they do in East Asian countries particularly Japan.  We Americans spread disease like uncivilized barbarians by sneezing into hands and elbows.

راما راما الاسد
راما راما الاسد

The lies of FSA.. Disturbing footage 18+ Documenting Crimes Against Humanity in Syria) (Not for Shock) (23/08/12) 'Free Syrian Army' fighters in Douma cut the throats of 16 men accused of being government supporters. The evidence for this comes from two seperate videos. One shows the victims prior to their deaths. They have been captured by insurgents who claim they are 'Shabiha' and policemen. Another video, also posted by opposition activists but purporting to show the victims of a massacre by pro-government militia shows the bodies of the same men earlier seen in the custody of Syrian rebels. They are seen handcuffed and their throats have been cut. The fact that the dead men were in fact 'Free Syrian Army' prisoners proves that not only did the Syrian rebels kill 16 unarmed men, they also attempted to blame the atrocity on government forces. The massacre seems to have taken place on the 17th of August, 2012 on the outskirts of Douma 10 km North West of Damascus. .https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151186535447667&set=vb.144930862280593&type=3

راما راما الاسد
راما راما الاسد

FSA throws dead bodies from a building- DISTURBING OMG... Another disturbing film showing the crimes of FSA. If you have a weak stomach don't watch it.. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Throwing dead bodies of the post office employees in Aleppo... They used to hide their crimes but today they post these videos proudly and they threat any pro-government person to have the same destiny.. Sorry Che Guevara.. Yesterday the world called you revolutionist and today the world is calling these rats revolutionists.. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- Support to expose their crimes>>> SHARE!https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151152804547667&set=vb.144930862280593&type=3

راما راما الاسد
راما راما الاسد

Armed Syrian opposition beheads a pro-Assad citizen- VERY DISTURB Weak hearts.. Don't watch Armed Syrian opposition beheads a pro-Assad citizen- VERY DISTURBING! This might be the worst video posted by the rebels in Aleppo.. Beheading a pro-Assad citizen and promising all pro- government people to have the same destiny. Damn you FSA and all the countries supporting you weather in arming, funding or International conferences. DAMN YOU all! Support and SHARE!https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151156041247667&set=vb.144930862280593&type=3

راما راما الاسد
راما راما الاسد

FSA Genocide against Minorities in Syria. Warning: Some footage is graphic (18+, Not for Shock) ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a short film showing the HATRED spread by Wahhabi and the terrorism of their followers. Everyone should see and share this, so everyone in the world could know the untold story about the unrest in our beloved SYRIA ----------------------------------------------------------------------------https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151172374837667&set=vb.144930862280593&type=3

Nervana Rajab
Nervana Rajab

Vice-President Farouk al-Shara has never at any moment thought of leaving the homeland to whatever place, the Office of the Vice-President said in a press statement. The release stressed al-Shara's welcome of the appointment of Lakhadar Brahimi as the UN new envoy to Syria and support for his commitment to obtaining a unified stance by the Security Council to carry out his difficult mission without obstacles.

Nervana Rajab
Nervana Rajab

terrorism in our country, camebecause of some Arab and European countries, which are supporting the Terrorist Armed Groups by money and weapons.We have the right to decide how we gonna solve our problems by Syrian hands .these terrorists want to erase the identity of the Syrian Arab Army by charging himwith crimes he never did , in fact the Armed groups the part who did that crimes. These Armed people are not all Syrians ,there are a lot of them came from different countries like Libya and Turkey

Nervana Rajab
Nervana Rajab

To all parts of the Earth. Here the Syrian Arabic Republic. Here the land of love and peace. Here the land of Al-Sham. . Cham splendor.. Eli shook the universe and put tnhez. Here hang here.. Here land victories. Here men of God lovers certificate ... Here the Syrian Arab Army. Here the people are insulted and unrelenting ... Here the children keep the Covenant. Here brothers Bashar Al Assad