When good manners and public health needs collide, it’s a great opportunity for a teachable moment.  So just a reminder: shielding your cough and your sneeze now can keep you—and who knows who else—healthy later.  As long as swine flu is making its way across the country, let's put the home training our mothers and grandmothers gave us to good use:

Cover your mouth when you cough and wash you hands afterward.  With soap.  For longer than you do normally.

Consider doing what the Europeans do and sneeze into your elbow instead of your hands—your sweater can always be cleaned, and your hands will have fewer microbes.

If you’re a big hugger/kisser when you greet people—don’t.  At least until this virus has been greatly subdued.  Same for handshakes.  Offer a warm smile and a to the point explanation: “just doing my part to keep you healthy.  Love you!”  People will not be offended.

If you use common office equipment—a computer, phones, copier—take a moment to wipe off surfaces with an antibacterial cloth after you leave so they’re germ-reduced for your coworkers.  Share your waterless hand cleaner if people look at it longingly (and remember to squirt  yourself again before you put it back in your pocket or bookbag.)

Most important: if you’re sick, stay home.  Period.  If your child is sick, do not send him/her to day care or school.  A sick person who normally places himself in the midst of his seemingly healthy colleagues during flu season is thoughtless and selfish.  (Yeah, we all want to save our sick days in case a child needs tending to—but don’t make me use mine cause you didn’t have the grace to refrain from contaminating me!) 

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A sick person doing that during an outbreak like this one is unforgivable.

Karen Grigsby Bates is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).

is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).