Cover Your Cough to Stop the Spread of Germs

An infectious disease expert spells out the proper way to cough in order to stop germs in their tracks.

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CLEVELAND – Stopping the spread of germs is top of mind these days – and covering a cough is a good place to start.

Frank Esper, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic Children’s, said there’s a proper way to cough to stop germs in their tracks.

“What we try to do, is we try to cough into a place that we don’t touch other people,” he said. “And so, our elbow has been one of the best things that we have found over the last years, is that if we cough into our arm, and into our elbow, we don’t have to worry about moving those germs from place to place.”

Dr. Esper said when we cough into open air, germs can travel three to five feet.

Some germs stay airborne for a while – like measles, which can hang out in the air for hours.

He said when we ‘catch a cough’ in our hands – it may stop the cough, but germs can spread if we touch objects and people.

Dr. Esper recommends teaching kids at a young age to ‘cough like Dracula’ – and tuck their nose into their elbow, just like Dracula wraps his face in his cape – so it becomes a habit.

But, he reminds parents that little kids will forget – so, it’s important to also teach them good hand washing skills.

“A lot of times, children are very happy to learn this; they are just sponges for information,” said Dr. Esper. “You tell them to wash their hands early and often, especially when they’re sick; especially when they’re wiping their nose – or they’re playing with someone who’s wiping their nose – it is one way to keep them healthy.”

Dr. Esper said washing hands for about 20 seconds is ideal to get rid of viruses and bacteria. For kids under three, who aren’t especially good at washing their hands, using alcohol-based hand sanitizer is another good option.

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