Best way to capture cough or sneeze to avoid spreading an ailment

Small but rising numbers of flu cases around the nation have a Northern Virginia doctor urging people to get vaccinated and cover coughs correctly to avoid spreading ailments, such as the flu, colds and COVID-19.

If you can’t stop a cough, keep 6 feet away from other people and turn your head away into a tissue or a napkin.

“Because what we’ve learned is that when you’re coughing in your hands or your elbow — 30% of that is actually transmitted in a 6 -foot radius around you,” said Dr. Jason Singh, an internal medicine doctor at Kaiser Permanente in Virginia.

“In addition to the flu, COVID also transfers by respiratory droplets, and so that can also cause a transmission from one person to another,” he said.

Dr. Jason Singh is an internal medicine doctor at Kaiser Permanente in Virginia. (Courtesy Drade Photography & Film/Erick A. Andrade)

Contagion-spreading droplets also have the potential to transfer from an inner arm used to try to block them to someone you might hug after coughing or sneezing.

“The elbow is still better than your hand. But ideally, you want to cover it with a tissue or a napkin,” Singh said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said to throw used tissues in the trash and remember to immediately wash your hands after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.

Have you gotten your flu shot yet? They’re recommended for everyone 6 months old and up and the benefits far outweigh the risk.

“The worst thing that can happen with the flu shot is just a localized pain at the arm at the injection site, and maybe a little bit of a headache, a little bit of a fever and cough for a day or two, but then it dissipates,” Singh said.

People with the flu often feel some or all of the following:

  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Fever or feeling feverish or chills. Not everyone with flu will have a fever.
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, although this is more common in children than adults.

People spending a year and a half isolated because of the pandemic might make for an unusual flu season.

“We’re not used to the usual exposure from common bacteria and viruses. So that natural immunity to the flu is not there this year. And so we suspect that there might be more severe symptoms, which is one of the reasons why at Kaiser Permanente, we’re strongly encouraging everyone to get your flu shot this year to really just prevent ourselves from this strain that’s been circulating about into the community,” he said referencing the majority of cases being the A (H3N2) strain.

In the past, influenza A virus-predominant seasons were associated with more hospitalizations and deaths in people 65 and older compared with other age groups and other influenza viruses, according to a recent advisory from the CDC.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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