Observational research is so much more meaningful – either direct or with video – than self-reported surveys. Of course, everyone says they wash their hands, but they don’t.
Same with blowing the nose or coughing. Health types have been promoting the Dracula-move – expelling your inner germs into the crook of your arm – but when medical students secretly watched hundreds of people cough or sneeze at a train station, a shopping mall and a hospital in New Zealand, most people failed to properly prevent an airborne explosion of infectious germs.
The work was done in the capital city of Wellington over two weeks last August, at the tail end of a worrisome but fairly mild wave of swine flu illnesses. It was a time when the pandemic was international news, and public health campaigns were telling children and adults to be careful about spreading the virus.
The good news is that about three of every four people tried to cover their cough or sneeze, in at least a token attempt to prevent germs from flying through the air.
The bad news is that most people — about two of three — used their hands to do it.
Study author Nick Wilson, an associate professor of public health at the Otago University campus in Wellington, said,
"When you cough into your hands, you cover your hand in virus. Then you touch doorknobs, furniture and other things. And other people touch those and get viruses that way.”
Only 1 in 77 pulled the Dracula move, and about 1 in 30 used a tissue or hankerchief.
The researchers didn’t report numbers on this, but several times they saw people spit on the floor, including at the hospital.
Wilson’s team logged 384 sneezes and coughs.