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Use Your Elbow to Help Avoid the Spread of Cold & Flu

Experts Stress Coughing into Your Sleeve the Best Way To Prevent Colds and Flu From Spreading

By Clete Campbell

Who knew your elbow had bionic powers to stop the flu?

From when we were kids, we’ve been taught to cover our mouth when we feel a sneeze or cough coming on. Covering your mouth, any kindergartener will tell you, prevents the spread of infectious germs.

But the more we learned about the travel paths and contagious tenancies of germs, the more we’ve learned that our hand is far from the best catcher of germs when we sneeze or cough. If our hand was a big league catcher, it’d be dropping the ball on every sneeze.

America’s health officials have reached a clear consensus: The elbow is the best germ catcher for sneezes or coughs. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Public Health Association all recommend catching colds or sneezes with your elbow. 

Alas, too many of us do not turn to our elbow when we sneeze. By not doing so, we are not covering our cough.

“The way we cover up (coughs and sneezes) matters, and there are plenty of people who haven’t heard the consensus guidance of health officials,” The New York Times’ Daniel Victor writes. “If no tissue is available, you should aim into your elbow, not your hand. Even if that means breaking a long-held habit.”

For coughing or sneezing into your hand makes them an instant ready transmitter of cold and flu viruses. Germs are most commonly spread by the respiratory droplets emitted from sneezing and coughing.

“When you cough into your hand, the germs will spread onto everything you touch with your hands,” Very Well Health’s Kristina Duda, RN, writes. 

That includes heavily used public objects including door knobs, elevator buttons and shopping carts.

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

Actually, today’s kids, who are taught the proper way to cough or sneeze in school, can actually teach adults a thing or two about good cough and sneeze hygiene. Kids learn the Dracula Cough, while many grownups are still going with the old-school hand sneeze.

Here are the Proper Ways To Cover A Cough or Sneeze Correctly:

  1. Cough Into Your Bent Elbow
  2. Cough Into Tissue
  3. Wash Hands Before Touching Doorknobs and Other Surfaces
  4. Use Hand Sanitizer

Health officials admit the elbow cough and sneeze isn’t germ-proof. Studies have shown even wearing masks when coughing can’t prevent all germ droplets from becoming airborne. For as the CDC stresses, proper hygiene etiquette practices can help prevent the spread of not just the cold and influenza, but other serious illnesses like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), whooping cough, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). 

But anything that helps ground most flying particles help. And when it comes to coughs and sneezes, no method corrals more germs than the elbow sneeze and cough. 

“This simple step could protect many people from getting sick,” Duda writes.