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Politeness a threat to public health

Politeness a threat to public health Swine flu prevention advice ignored

It may be the hallmark of good manners, but covering a sneeze with your bare hand is actually a threat to public health.

A new study found that when people were urged during the swine flu outbreak to cover their mouths when sneezing or coughing, most followed this advice half-heartedly, using their palm rather than a handkerchief or their inner elbow, as recommended by public health officials.

Sneezing into your hand covers it with germs which are then transferred to other objects, such as door handles and handrails, potentially infecting other people.

The survey, conduced at the time of the 2009 swine flu outbreak in Wellington, New Zealand, found that 1 of 4 people observed in public did not cover their mouth when coughing or sneezing.

Alarmingly, less than 5 per cent of those observed covered their mouth using the recommended method, which is sneezing into a handkerchief or into your elbow.

Washing or disinfecting your hands would remove the virus from your hands, but few people do so after sneezing or coughing.

Public health officials promoted the measures in the hope it would prevent the spread of the infection.

The research was presented at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases in Atlanta, Georgia, on Monday.

This article was published on Tue 13 July 2010

Image © Henry Schmitt - Fotolia.com

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