Yes, you should cover your mouth when you sneeze. But some other common germ-fighting tactics aren’t necessarily scientifically sound.
Microbiologist Philip Tierno reveals the everyday ways you try to avoid bugs that don’t really work.
1. USING YOUR FOOT TO FLUSH THE TOILET
Unless you can figure out how to open and lock the bathroom stall door handle – a major germ zone – without using your hands, expect to leave the stall with contaminated hands regardless.
Using a tissue to get in and out of the stall may help, but your best bet is to thoroughly wash your hands with soap and warm water, and use a paper towel or your elbow to exit the gents.
2. HOLDING YOUR BREATH WHEN SOMEONE NEARBY SNEEZES
“Unless you can hold your breath for a really long time, this isn’t going to help,” says Tierno, since those little respiratory germ droplets can linger in the air.
If you’re already a good distance away from the sneezer you might be spared, as saliva and mucus droplets can travel only up to a metre or two.
3. WIPING THE LID OF A SHARED DRINK
This tactic is so-so.
“It is somewhat helpful, since you’re cutting down on some of the salivary secretions, but there’s nothing foolproof here,” says Tierno.
Even a good wipe could leave behind the germs that cause strep or the stomach flu, which is never worth a single swig. Lie and say you have a cold if someone else is asking to try your drink.
4. USING GLOVES TO TOUCH THE ATM
Germs will transfer to your gloves and not your finger . . . for the moment.
But the minute you use your hands to pull off your gloves (or touch your gloves to your face), you’re back in contact with those same germs, says Tierno.
The good news: most cold and flu germs die after a day, so as long as you lay your gloves out to dry (anything wet is a breeding ground for bacteria), those germs from the ATM will be long gone.
The bottom line: your best germ-fighting plan is to wash your hands properly, use hand sanitiser, keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth, and steer clear of sick friends – if you can.