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The Right Way to Sneeze

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The Right Way to Sneeze

A man just before or after a sneeze

Getty ImagesTrevor Williams

We as a society know to wash our hands, brush our teeth, and chew with our mouths closed, but apparently we’re still struggling with a very basic piece of etiquette: sneezing the right way.

Let me acknowledge that you can’t control when you sneeze. Human biology has come up with a very effective way of clearing out our airways without a thought. Sensing irritation in your nasal passages, your body releases special brain-signaling chemicals that then trigger a convulsive expulsion of air out of the nose and mouth at more than 30 miles per hour.

It’s an involuntary response to a common problem. The real problem, though, is that people don’t know where to sneeze. Apparently 13.4% of us still think it’s a-okay to sneeze into our hands, according to a recent survey of more than 1,000 people.

You may think, “Oh, at least they’re covering up their sneezes. Stop being such a germaphobe and cut them a break.” NO. We live in a modern society. We have science. And science says don’t sneeze into your dang hands.

Each uncovered sneeze can spread viruses, bacteria, or other pathogens more than 20 feet away, according to MIT research, but those same germs can pass from your fingers and palms to doorknobs, desks, and handrails. Flu microbes can remain active on surfaces for hours at a time – not ideal if you happen to shake hands with one of these rogue sneezers.

    “If somebody sneezes into their hands, that creates an 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 New York Times.

    The best-case scenario: Sneeze into a tissue, throw it out, and immediately wash your hands. The second-best option (for when you’re caught tissue-less): Sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands, and then still wash your hands.

    It’s common courtesy, people. The CDC has issued this same advice for more than a decade, so the ignorance excuse won’t last much longer. Even Sesame Street weighed in on the matter back in 2009:

    Call it the “Dracula cough” or just basic etiquette, but sneezing into your hands has just got to stop.

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