Mind Your (Cold & Flu) Manners

woman-blowing-noseIt’s almost that time of the year again – for flu shots, cough/cold medicine, extra boxes of tissue and vapor rub. And it’s no secret that many people catch their colds and flus from germs spread at work, home, school, even at the doctor’s office.

Is the spread of contagious illnesses inevitable? Not necessarily. By paying closer attention to the basic rules of etiquette when you’re coughing, sneezing, and showing other signs of a contagious cold, you can help control the spread of germs and help keep you and everyone else as much healthier.

1. Sneeze into your elbow, not your hand. As kids, most people were taught to cover their nose and mouth with their hands when they sneeze. But then where does that leave your germs? All over your hands, of course. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been campaigning to get kids (and adults too) to learn to sneeze into their elbows instead. “You can’t get to a sink immediately,” says Kathryn Teng, MD, a physician in the department of internal medicine and director of clinical integration of personalized health care at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “And you touch so many things. It’s really a great way to contain germs.”

2. Wash or sanitize hands frequently. When it comes to washing your hands, “you really just can’t do it enough in the wintertime,” says Dr. Teng. Of course, you can get viruses, colds, and the flu any time of year. But “it’s more rampant in wintertime because we’re inside and in closer quarters.” So head to the sink, soap up, and scrub up after you sneeze, before you eat, and any other chance you get.

3. Warn others that you’re just getting over the flu. Let’s say you’re planning to travel and visit friends for the weekend, but you just getting over something pretty nasty. It’s just good manners and common courtesy to let them know that you’re sick before you show up to find out if it’s still okay to come over.

4. Stay home if you’re not feeling well. If you have a fever or are just overall feeling sick, it’s best to stay home, says Teng. That way you’re not putting so many others at risk. And at work or school, those confined spaces are perfect for trapping germs and spreading them all around. Your boss and your child’s teacher will thank you for your consideration and your help in preventing the spread of your illness to the whole group.

5. Excuse yourself from shaking hands if you’re sick. What’s worse than seeing a sniffling, sneezing person extending her hand for you to shake? You don’t want to be rude and ignore her, but it’s not exactly polite to offer a germy hand in the first place. “I think it’s rude when people know that they’re sick and they go ahead and shake people’s hands,” says Dr. Teng. “Don’t cough or blow your nose and then hold out your hand for me to shake.” Instead, simply politely excuse yourself by saying something like, “Excuse me for not shaking your hand, but I’ve been sick.” Your friends and colleagues will appreciate the gesture — and not sharing your germs.

Proper etiquette takes on a much larger, and just as important, meaning when it comes to ensuring your health and the health of those around you. Following these tips will not only help you avoid getting sick and spreading germs, but also will help you avoid those evil glares from the people around you afraid of catching those germs!

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