Twenty-first Century Sneeze

by Mark Moore, MD

Recently, a friend mentioned that schools are encouraging children to sneeze on their arm sleeve instead of their hand. The old adage "cover your mouth when you sneeze" takes on a new perspective. Now to demonstrate, instead of using a cupped hand, one would need to sweep your entire arm across your face. The 21st century sneeze.

The theory seems valid enough. A sneeze can send billions of infected germs flying from the mouth at speeds of nearly 100 miles per hour. When you cover your mouth with your hand, it become a vector of spread, as it is often the same hand people use to open doors, handle objects or shake someone else's hand. Obviously the best choice is to sneeze into a tissue or handkerchief (yes, they still make them). Should you find yourself without one, sneeze into the bend of your elbow. It's a good idea to teach children about germs and cleanliness, and their relationship to hand-washing early on.

During our last doctor.s office visit for vaccines, when we explained to our 2 year-old that he was going to need a shot, he exclaimed: "But daddy, I'm not sick!" He does not yet grasp the concept of "prevention".

Should you find yourself with an under-the-weather family member this flu season, remember: the slowest day of the week to be in your doctors office is Thursday. Best time of day for an appointment is probably the afternoon. This means you'll spend less time in the waiting room. Doctors offices have books, magazines and toys that have been handled by lots of sick people. Handle with care. When possible, leave well children home with sitters or other family members.

I do not seek to create a community of o.c.'s (obsessive-compulsive) or "stepford" children, but colds and upper respiratory infections are the number one cause of doctors visits and cost tens of billions of dollars annually. Think of the cost and effort involved in treatment: sitting in doctors' offices, the prescriptions, the sleepless nights, loss of work and missed school. Antibacterial soaps and antimicrobial wipes are great but they cannot replace simple and routine hand-washing with soap and water. And don't forget to sneeze into the bend of your elbow.

Mark Moore, MD is an experienced Anesthesiologist, sub-specializating in women's and children's anesthesia. He holds board certifications in both Anesthesiology and Pain Management. Dr. Moore and his wife, Lisa, a pediatric nurse, are the authors of Baby Girl or Baby Boy. They live in Tallahassee, Florida.

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