Swine flu medical team appalled by the ‘gross’ wellingtonians

influenza aHealth announcements that urged the public to cover their noses or mouths with tissues, handkerchiefs or elbows when sneezing or coughing during the influenza A (H1N1) pandemic may have missed their mark, according to data presented here at the 2010 International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases.  

After public health officials established guidelines for respiratory hygiene practices during the pandemic, researchers from the University of Otago in Wellington, New Zealand, said they became curious about the number of people following the recommended behaviors.

Even at the height of the swine flu pandemic, 95 per cent of those in Wellington ignored basic hygiene messages promoted in a major public health campaign.

University of Otago Wellington researchers observed thousands of people at Wellington railway station, a central city food court and Wellington Hospital at the peak of last year's pandemic.

A quarter of all observed did not cover their faces at all, while the rest coughed into their hands – spreading germs as soon as they touched anything.

Just one in 20 covered their coughs and sneezes using recommended measures – such as a tissue or the crook of their elbow – during the health scare.

In another study, the researchers tracked respiratory behaviors in three public settings — a train station, a hospital and a shopping mall — in Wellington City to determine how often people adhered to the recommended hygiene practices while sneezing or coughing. Thirteen medical students acted as observers and recorded data on sneezing or coughing, they said.

Results indicated that 64.4% of people covered their noses or mouths with their hands when sneezing or coughing, whereas only 3.4% used tissues or handkerchiefs and 1.3% used elbows or arms. Data showed that these recommended practices were even less common in certain settings, such as railway carriages.

The researchers said, however, that a greater number of people, 26.7%, did not bother to cover their noses or mouths at all during respiratory events. Uncovered events appeared more common when people were located within
1 m of others.