By Janis Graham
'Tis the season...for colds, flu, stomach bugs, and all those other ills that spread when people come together — whether by choice (at holiday parties) or circumstance (on airplanes). But don't start calculating your sick days just yet. This year you can do more than wash your hands and cross your fingers. Recent research, some of it sparked by the scary H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009, has uncovered new steps you can take to protect yourself and your family. Most...
"It's our responsibility to cover mouth and nose so those droplets don't go into the air... so they don't spread to other people," says James Mamary, MD, a pulmonologist with Temple Lung Center at Temple University Health System in Philadelphia.
"You should sneeze into a tissue or paper towel," he tells WebMD. "If you don't have those with you, you can sneeze into the crook of your elbow. Just make sure you put that clothing into the wash at night."
Keep that stuff off your hands -- so there's no chance you will spread flu germs to another surface, Mamary advises. Otherwise, your dirty hand will touch a door knob or elevator button. Some unlucky person will touch that knob or button, and now he's got it. The nasty cycle of the flu virus spreads on.
Making It Work at the Office: Crisis on the Elevator
Here's a familiar scenario: The elevator is crowded, and someone's sneezing. What can you do to protect yourself? To avoid those flying flu droplets, here's Mamary's advice: "Turn your face away. Put your sleeve or your hands over your face."
Another tack: "I think that courteously asking the person to cover up. Some adults don't know better. We can educate them. Hopefully we can do it in a civil, discrete way. A smile, a hand over the face, and a wink can do the same thing. Or tap them on the shoulder. It's just a friendly reminder."
In today's world, "we have the responsibility for each other's health," he tells WebMD. "After all, 30 or 20 or 10 years ago, we didn't ask people to stop smoking in public but now we do. Hopefully we won't have to legislate that you can't sneeze or cough in the air."
Covering up is "part of being a good citizen, a nice person," Mamary says. "It's taking care of yourself, your family. It's part of being polite; part of being responsible. I think a lot of people just forget. They're busy in their own thoughts. A cough is a reflex, and they don't even think [about] what's going on."