It’s not just good manners to cover your cough. Doing so helps reduce the spread of germs including the highly contagious influenza virus. The flu and some other infections are spread through microscopic water droplets expelled from an infected person, commonly through coughing, sneezing, and hand-to-mouth contact.
Aside from washing your hands with warm water and soap or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, one of the most important and effective ways to stop the spread of germs is to cover your cough and sneeze. An uncovered cough or sneeze can send infected droplets up to six feet away and remain airborne for several hours. The live virus can also live on surfaces for up to 48 hours.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that proper hygiene etiquette practices can help prevent the spread of illnesses, including influenza, respiratory syncytial virus, whooping cough, and severe acute respiratory syndrome. Putting your hand in front of your mouth to cover your cough is not advised. When you do this, the germs will then spread onto everything you touch, including surfaces like remote controls and doorknobs, but also things like food you serve and hands you shake. Put another way, your attempt to halt the spreading of germs will be moot.
Finally, the CDC recommends coughing into a tissue and throwing the tissue in the garbage. Then, wash your hands with soap or use hand sanitizer just in case any germs were transmitted from the tissue onto your skin. If you don’t have a tissue handy, the next best option is coughing into the crook of your elbow. This is obviously simple, but it may take time to make a habit. It’s worth it, as this practice dramatically drops the odds of you spreading those germs.