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These tips are nothing to sneeze at

You're about to sneeze. Quick! What should you do?

The conventional wisdom seems to be that you raise your upper arm to cover your nose and mouth, a maneuver also known as the "Dracula sneeze." (Note to Count Dracula: Time to send that cape to the cleaners.)

But here's the problem. Coughing or sneezing into your sleeve seems, well, kinda nasty.

And there is this: Recently, after Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius chided a reporter for sneezing into his hand at a news conference, conservative talker Rush Limbaugh pooh-poohed the practice.

"Elitist snobs advising us to sneeze on our arms," Limbaugh called Sebelius and her ilk, who apparently want us all to become "hick hayseeds." You know, like the Beverly Hillbillies, Gomer Pyle and the denizens of "Green Acres."

Limbaugh may have been joking - and we must point out that sneezing into your shirt is different than wiping your nose with it. It's true, though, that Sebelius and public health officials advocate the Dracula sneeze.

Most schoolkids have already been indoctrinated. For many adults, though, it's a matter of re-teaching yourself.

"Now whenever I cough or sneeze, it's always in my elbow," said Jeff Hershberger, a health department spokesman in Kansas City, Mo.

"We discovered a really valuable product," said etiquette expert and author Lizzie Post. "Its brand name is Kleenex, and they make pocket tissues. If you're dressed really nicely, slip a couple of tissues into your pocket or purse, and take them out if you need to. It also prevents you from doing the cough or sneeze into your elbow."

Throw the tissue away and wash your hands or use sanitizer.

And hand washing is important. Our hands are the biggest culprits when it comes to spreading many types of viral infections. If you have a cold (or, worse, some kind of flu) and you sneeze into your hand, you're likely to touch things other people will touch. They will touch their own eyes, ears and mouths. Then they could get what you have.

Jeanette Hernandez Prenger has a different approach. If she can't grab a handkerchief in time, she will bring the back of her hand and wrist up to her face, "so I don't look like a hillbilly." Sneezing into a shirtsleeve is "gross" and just not "a very elegant look," she said.

With her method, she can wash her hands immediately and not mess up her outfit, said Prenger, president of a staffing agency in Kansas City.

STOP THE SPREAD

- Wet your hands with clean running water and apply soap. Use warm water if it is available.

- Rub hands together to make a lather and scrub all surfaces.

- Continue rubbing hands for 15-20 seconds. Imagine singing "Happy Birthday" twice.

- Rinse hands well under running water.

- Dry your hands using a paper towel or air dryer. If possible, use your paper towel to turn off the faucet.

- Always use soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.

When using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer:

- Apply product to the palm of one hand.

- Rub hands together.

- Rub the product over all surfaces of hands and fingers until hands are dry.

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