It’s worse than we thought!
When you sneeze, you don’t just produce a spray mist of potentially infectious saliva droplets. Instead, you launch a wide sheet of fluid that starts off ballooning, then bursts like a bubble, and finally disperses into a spray - much like the dynamics of tossing paint into the air.
Most people instinctively just use their hands, which is a terrible idea. All that fluid - a nice mixture of saliva, mucus, and germs - ends up on your hands, and will transfer to the next surface you touch, where it can live for at least a few hours. Furthermore, the hands usually don’t cover all of the droplet cloud, and the potential for spreading disease is still high.
NSW Ministry of Health advises that you should use a tissue to cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing - and importantly, throw that tissue out afterwards. This advice is echoed by health departments worldwide. If you don’t have a tissue or paper towel handy, it’s best to sneeze into the crook of your elbow.
According to a Mythbusters program back in 2010 called The Safe Sneeze, sneezing into your elbow is the most effective way to prevent the fluids from spreading, whereas if you sneeze through a tissue or hanky you will end up with fluid all over your hands. Don't even think about putting that handkerchief back into your pocket! Eeek! Whatever you choose to do, cover up that sneeze and wash your hands afterwards.
The Sneezesafe® program is an educational health program designed and developed for Australian classrooms and has been running in schools since 2011. By participating, teachers can download resources to teach children how to prevent the spread of coughs, colds and flu whether at school or home. This might be something helpful to get you through this upcoming flu season.