Local medical professionals agree: Use a tissue when sneezing

Posted: Feb. 28, 2014 6:24 pm Updated: Mar. 14, 2014 8:14 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

It's difficult to imagine a tissue as a weapon for battle, but local medical professionals agree it's the best way to fight the spread of germs when sneezing or coughing.

"If you don't have a tissue, don't cough into your hand, cough into your upper sleeve," Mary Bennett, infection preventionist at Hannibal Regional Hospital, said.

ABC News recently conducted an experiment with the different ways to protect the spread of germs during a sneeze or cough. It determined that the most effective way remains using a tissue in front of the nose and mouth. It also tested using the inside of the elbow, covering the mouth with just the hands and using nothing at all.

ABC News used high-speed cameras and food coloring to measure where sneezes were going. When using a tissue, ABC News found no particles from the sneeze were found outside of the tissue but did find that sneezing into the elbow still showed particles flew 8.5 feet away. With no tissue or sleeve, a sneeze from one participant landed 11 feet away.

It was similar to an experiment that MythBusters, a television show on the Discovery Channel, did in November of 2010. However, MythBusters determined the safest way to sneeze or cough was into the sleeve of the elbow because contaminants would go through a tissue and all over the hand.

Carleen Orton, infection control coordinator at Blessing Hospital, said the hospital follows what the Center for Disease Control recommends -- for people to cover the nose and mouth with a tissue while sneezing or coughing. If you don't have a tissue available, then use the sleeve of your elbow.

Orton said this time of the year is the peak of cold and flu season. Regardless of what method is used, it's important to immediately wash your hands using soap and water.

Bennett said Hannibal Regional Hospital also follows the CDC's recommendations and says the success of preventing the spread of illness is contingent on hand hygiene afterward. She said if you do have to sneeze or cough into your sleeve to make sure your mouth is as close to your sleeve as possible.

"If you don't have your sleeve very close to your mouth, then stuff will probably get past you. And, of course, keep your hands off your sleeves," she said.

It's not getting any safer in the workplace, either. According to a survey by Staples, Inc., nearly 90 percent of office employees go to work sick, growing from 80 percent and 60 percent the last two years.

"People tend to go to work when they're sick for a variety of reasons," Bennett said. "We all do it. But when you got something bad like (the flu), it's best to stay home and just not give it to your coworkers."

Orton said the best way to prevent the spread of diseases is to stay home when you're sick. Work at home, if possible, or avoid meetings with groups of people at work.

"Stay away from other people when you are ill," she said. "You need to protect coworkers, people out in public and certainly your family."

She also suggests frequent cleaning of things like doorknobs, keyboards, computer mice and phones that can become easily contaminated.