Questions & Answers about the 2009–2010 Flu Season
What sort of flu season is expected this year?
Flu seasons are unpredictable in a number of ways, including the timing of
the beginning, severity, and length of the flu season.
This flu season (2009-2010), there are more uncertainties than usual because
of the emergence of a new 2009 H1N1
influenza virus (previously called "novel H1N1" or "swine flu") that has
caused the first influenza pandemic (global outbreak of disease) in more than
"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
"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
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
Making It Work at School: Listen to Teacher
Kids should be sneezing or coughing into a tissue, but what kid has a tissue
in his pocket? Coughing or sneezing into the crook of the elbow is fine for
"It should be part of the routine of everyday life, and needs daily
reinforcement," Mamary says. "It's kind of like saying please and thank you.
It's that important."
Kids should be reminded at school, says Rachel Orscheln, MD, an infectious
disease specialist and pediatrician at Washington University School of Medicine
in St. Louis. "There should be flyers up. Teachers should remind them that if
they cough or sneeze, they should cover their mouths and nose, and wash their
SOURCES: James Mamary, MD, pulmonologist, Temple Lung Center at Temple
University Health System, Philadelphia. Rachel Orscheln, MD, infectious disease
specialist and pediatrician, Washington University School of Medicine, St.
Louis. CDC: "Stopping the Spread of Germs at Home Work & School" and
"Good Health Habits for Preventing the Flu."