Achoo to you! It is that wonderful time of the year when respiratory virus transmission is on the rise. Covering coughs and sneezes and keeping hands clean can help prevent the spread of serious respiratory illnesses. If you can grab a tissue, please cover your mouth and nose with it when you cough or sneeze. Remember to throw used tissues in the trash; do not put them back in your purse or pocket. And immediately wash your hands after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol to clean hands.
If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hands! Please do not greet someone with an elbow bump since this is likely to be another potential risk factor for transmission of respiratory viruses. An argument against the elbow is that a virus can remain infectious for 8 hours on a cloth surface.1 It is not convenient to change clothes frequently or disinfect the sleeve after coughing or sneezing into the elbow.
What is one to do? Just do the best you can with what you have available for a sneeze or cough when the moment arrives. And consider getting vaccinations after discussing with your doctor. Did you know that safe and effective influenza vaccines have been used for more than 60 years?2 Since immunity from a flu vaccination decreases over time, an annual vaccination is recommended for protection. There are other vaccinations, such as Covid-19, that manufacturers are updating to target recent strains. Whether or not you get these vaccinations is an individually informed decision.
And may each of you not experience any respiratory illnesses this season!
- John O, Berezin EN, Patrice C, et al. The survival of influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 virus on 4 household surfaces. Am J Infect Control. 2014;42:423-425.
- Influenza (Seasonal). World Health Organization. January 12, 2023. Accessed September 9, 2023. www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/influenza-(seasonal).
Sharon S. Gentry, MSN, RN, HON-ONN-CG, AOCN, CBCN, is an oncology healthcare provider with over 40 years of oncology care experience, the Program Director of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators (AONN+), and a champion of people living with cancer.