The best thing to do with your sleeve

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Kelley Moore
  • 39th Medical Operations Squadron commander
With flu season just around the corner, and all the recent hysteria with the H1N1 flu outbreak, I thought it was an appropriate time to discuss cough etiquette and hand washing.

Each time you cough or sneeze, you send millions of germs into the atmosphere. Coughs and sneezes spread diseases! Yikes, you do not want to be the one who single-handedly spreads the flu to the base this fall, do you? You do not want to be "that guy."

When you cough into your hands, the germs then get passed to telephones, door knobs, and other people. Some viruses and bacteria can live from 20 minutes to two hours or more on such surfaces. The best way to cough or sneeze is into your sleeve. Germs die in fabric.

Please keep in mind that if you do cough into your hands, wash them immediately with warm water for 15 - 20 seconds. You should dry your hands on a paper towel, or other clean towels or with a dryer ... not on your pants. Handkerchiefs or tissues should never be used more than once, and when used, then you should still wash your hands as soon as possible. In fact, throw away that nasty old handkerchief!

Using a waterless, alcohol based hand rub is also good and can be routinely used to clean your hands. According to the Center for Disease Control, waterless hand rubs significantly reduce the number of microorganisms on skin and are fast-acting. Waterless hand rubs are well-suited for hand washing if there is no sink nearby, and it covers a wide antimicrobial spectrum so it can kill bacteria and most clinically important viruses, yeasts and fungi.

The importance of hand washing is not debatable. Hand washing is an old-but-necessary ritual. Be a good role model. Your friends and family should see you washing your hands. You should wash your hands after using the restroom, before eating, after touching money or when hands are visibly soiled or dirty.

Do you know that in Japan, if you have a cough, you're supposed to wear a mask when travelling on public transport to cut exposure to your cold for your fellow passengers?

Now more than ever, proper cough etiquette is the polite and safest thing to do to for preventing the spread of germs. We could cut the spread of illness, stay healthier and achieve a better work life if we followed proper coughing etiquette. Be kind to others, cough in your sleeve.