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Elbowing your way through a cold

I consider myself a people person – unless I’m on the bus. The anonymity of the bus fosters poor behaviour….

By Kerry Blackadar , in Blogoscopy: Student health in focus , on January 12, 2009 Tags: , , , , , ,

I consider myself a people person – unless I’m on the bus.

The anonymity of the bus fosters poor behaviour. People who are normally reasonable and considerate on ‘the outside’ can become irrational and incapable of practicing simple etiquette. And I’m not talking about which fork to use for your salad.

Last Wednesday I learned the hard way that a diminished sense of respect on public transit can wreak havoc on your health.

I took the bus to the University of British Columbia along West 16th Avenue – an unreliable service at best. On this particular morning I waited 40 minutes before the number 33 arrived. When it finally pulled up, it was well over capacity. I found myself, at the height of cold season, wedged between sniffling students, who should have stayed home nursing a hot tea and erecting a fortress of tissues around their bed. 

A minute into the ride, IT started – the first hesitant clearing of the throat from the back of the bus: a sort of signal for others to unleash a torrent of loud coughs, snorts, and sniffles in a bizarre medley of human contagion. And, as luck would have it, the student standing beside me kept sneezing with such force that he could have expelled a small bird. The most absurd part – he sneezed without bothering to cover his mouth.

I thought we learned how to sneeze in primary school. Cover, cover, cover. And, in case you are a little behind the health times, health practitioners and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention are encouraging you to stop using your hands, and start using your elbows to catch those germs.

It is estimated that up to 80 percent of infections are transmitted by your hands – probably because most people don’t wash them immediately after sneezing or coughing. Instead, they put them onto door handles and bus poles everywhere!

The elbow technique for sneezing is catching on though. Last week, kids at a school in Didsbury, Manchester were given a lesson on smart sneezing and their parents are being asked to play games with their children on Sneezesafe, a website launched by Kimberly-Clark Ltd. (which owns Kleenex).

But be aware – a sneeze isn’t always an indication that a person is sick. A recent study published by Dr. Mahmood Bhutta, an ear, nose, and throat expert from Oxford, says sneezing can be an indication that a person is sexually aroused.

Love could be just a sneeze away, but so could rheumatic fever. So fellow students (and other passengers on the bus), be courteous: learn how to use your elbows and cover your sneeze the hygienic way.