Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Cough This Way

The Obama administration, in particular the Centers for Disease Control, wants the American people to be ready for the second wave of swine flu that will come with the fall flu season. They've got all sorts of guidelines for what and what not to do. Most make sense. If you feel sick, stay home. Wash your hands frequently or use hand sanitizer. But there is one recommendation that has driven me completely nuts: "cover noses and mouths with a tissue when coughing or sneezing (or a shirt sleeve or elbow if no tissue is available)."

Shirt sleeve? Elbow? Gives a whole new meaning to "nuclear arms."

Look, I give the CDC credit for urging people to use a tissue. But there is NO excuse for the sleeve/elbow option. Not when there is another that is as timeless and chic as it is practical: the handkerchief. That square piece of white cotton that goes in your trouser pocket. Now, don't confuse the handkerchief for the pocket square. The latter can be made of cotton, linen or silk and has seen a popular resurgence thanks to Mad Men. But it is strictly decorative. Thus, you'd be well within your right to give someone a beat-down if they reached for your Hermes pocket square to snuff a sneeze.

In the old days, a handkerchief was a standard part of a man's wardrobe. There's a great scene in Alfred Hitchcock's 1959 film "North By Northwest" where Cary Grant is given a basic change of clothes after outrunning some killer crop dusters. He neatly slips the handkerchief into his pocket.

Today, it's a forgotten option. And yet just think about the handkerchief's potential. On days like today when the temperature and humidity have you sweating like a member of Congress at a rowdy town hall forum, you can use it to mop your brow. It comes in handy when you discover that the restroom is out of paper towels. Or when you or a friend spills a drink. Or when you're sitting in a meeting and a sneeze is itching to burst free. But I draw the line at nose blowing. I know that's a quirk of mine. But who wants to carry that around all day?

So, go to a department store or fine clothier and pick up a dozen. You can never have too many. I never leave home without one. With flu season approaching, neither should you.

By Jonathan Capehart  | August 10, 2009; 4:19 PM ET
Categories:  Capehart  | Tags:  Jonathan Capehart  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: A Remarkable Life Ends
Next: Sarah Palin Calls for...Restraint?


Brings to mind this line from "West Side Story":
"Whattsa matta witcha sleeve?"


Posted by: enogabal | August 10, 2009 7:22 PM | Report abuse

Well, handkerchiefs are not a bad choice for a white-collar worker, true.

But I prefer to keep a packet of disposable tissues on hand, myself. Of course, those of us with allergies would go through a dozen handkerchiefs in a day :).

Posted by: iamweaver | August 10, 2009 7:45 PM | Report abuse

Bah! I'm getting old. I forgot to add that using your "elbow or sleeve" is a vital message to get out, simply because too many folks cover their mouths with their hands!

Posted by: iamweaver | August 10, 2009 7:47 PM | Report abuse

Consider this Mr. Capehart; The only way to handle a reusable handkerchief is with one's hands. This is a very effective way to transmit colds and flu to other people, particularly if the person with the old fashioned handkerchief is just as old fashioned about hand washing (in other words, not conscientious about washing them at all).

Sneezing into a disposable tissue, or ones' sleeve is sound advice. So is hand washing, as long as it is done with a NON bacterial soap. Bacterial soaps are a far worse idea than your pet peeve about handkerchiefs versus tissue and shirt sleeves.

Regular soaps contain and eliminate bacteria and viruses from the hands, whereas bacterial soaps encourage microbial mutation.

Posted by: MillPond2 | August 10, 2009 8:15 PM | Report abuse

SO true, Millpond2. I stopped using my favorite brand of soap, Dial, years ago because they refuse to come out with a version that's not anti-bacterial. It's so sad that our society is deliberately killing off folks through this combination of the corporate mindset on one side ignorance on the other. It's a great example of Ambrose Bierce's definition:

"Corporation: An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility."

Posted by: iamweaver | August 10, 2009 9:10 PM | Report abuse

Yes, of course, the perfect solution is to call for everyone to go out and buy something that no one under the age of 65 currently owns and the use of which vanished from society decades ago. Brilliant solution to the flu problem.

Why do you care if other people cough into their own sleeve? Ask yourself this, whose hand do you want to shake, the guy who coughed into the elbow of his shirt, or the guy constantly using his hands to pull out the handkerchief he keeps coughing into. I know which I prefer.

Posted by: grashnak | August 10, 2009 10:37 PM | Report abuse

You obviously do not have children, have never been in a school, have never met a small child, and have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.

The sleeve into your arm thing isn't 'new,' at least not among kids and parents - in fact, this has been the standard practice they tell kids for a couple years now at most schools in our area. I'm sure the already burdened school system would love to have to deal with hankies though. As anyone who has ever had a kid knows, kids are (lovable) little germ factories and are often at greater risk for serious complications. Plus the closed school environment hastens spreading of the flu. In fact, in a classroom with 25+ kids, it is often not even possible for all the kids to wash their hands regularly - even if they all paid close attention to their hygiene, which I assure you they do not. Kids in schools are being conditioned to cough into their sleeves, and if that keeps other kids, parents, and siblings from spreading the flu, then that is fine by me!

I don't think I ever resort to name-calling when I comment, but this is the most idiotic thing I have ever read. By all means, go out and buy your nasty hankerchief but I'll be telling my kids to stick with the rules they've already learned.

It really does no good to anyone to print drivel like this which only undermines decent efforts at public health. I'd hope for an apology, but that would probably take you too long to type on your typewriter...

Posted by: jak2 | August 10, 2009 11:55 PM | Report abuse

Many in the crowd laughed uproariously when Sen. Benjamin Cardin (DEMOCRUD – MD) said illegal immigrants would not be entitled to coverage under the Democratic plan.

And they jumped to their feet in one of the longest, loudest ovations of the night after an audience member asked why tort reform wasn't a feature of the health care overhaul.

Posted by: hclark1 | August 11, 2009 1:15 PM | Report abuse

I have the perfect solution to keep your 'shirts clean': My daughter learned this great program at pre-school called Germy Wormy Germ Smar, which does just that. It also teaches kids to understand how germs spread and how to NOT spread them. The website speaks for itself:

Posted by: breehill9 | August 11, 2009 9:36 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Capehart, you seriously need to reconsider your priorities. Which is more important, your take on what is fashionable or preventing the spread of germs? While a handkerchief can work IF it is thick enough and the user washes it on a regular basis (which most people won't), it is simply irresponsible to discourage the public from coughing in their sleeves (which gets tossed in the laundry pile by the end of the day). Let's MAKE a gentle cough in our elbows fashionable!

I also have something to say about your desire to use a handkerchief for multiple purposes. ("On days like today when the temperature and humidity have you sweating like a member of Congress at a rowdy town hall forum, you can use it to mop your brow. It comes in handy when you discover that the restroom is out of paper towels. Or when you or a friend spills a drink.")

... That is just gross. You might as well wipe your damp handkerchief on the handrail in the metro, rub it on your face, and stuff it in your mouth. Please refrain from offering advice on personal hygiene.

Posted by: HarvardMPH | August 12, 2009 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Coughing into your sleeve/elbow is a common recommendation for health care workers dealing directly with patients.

Posted by: fdrew | August 12, 2009 10:52 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company