A new study presented Monday at an infectious diseases conference in Atlanta reveals most people don't correctly cover their coughs and sneezes.
For the study, medical students secretly watched hundreds of people cough or sneeze various locations. Those locations included at a train station, a shopping mall and a hospital in New Zealand. What they saw included most people failing to properly prevent an airborne explosion of infectious germs.
Two out three people observed used their hands instead of the recommended methods of coughing or sneezing into their elbow (1 in 77) or into a tissue or handkerchief (1 in 30).
Health officials recommend that people sneeze into their elbow, in a move sometimes called 'the Dracula' for its resemblance to a vampire suddenly drawing up his cape. But only about 1 in 77 did that.
Using a tissue or handkerchief is another preferred option, but only about 1 in 30 did that.
Three of every four people tried to cover their cough or sneeze in an attempt to prevent germs from flying through the air. However, two of three used their hands to do it.
The study was done in the capital city of Wellington over two weeks last August and at the tail end of a mild wave of swine flu illnesses. It was a time when the pandemic was international news and public health campaigns were telling children and adults to be careful about spreading the virus.
According to Nick Wilson, associate professor of public health at the Otago University campus in Wellington, when you cough into your hands, you cover your hand in virus and you can get viruses by touching infected doorknobs, furniture and other things.
The research team logged 384 sneezes and coughs but also saw people spit on the floor, including at the hospital.
Wilson called the findings surprising, especially given that it occurred only four months after the swine flu illness was first identified, when it was still considered unusually dangerous.
Coughing into hands might be fine if everyone promptly and thoroughly disinfected their hands afterward, but no one believes that's happening.