In the July school holidays I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 at the Cinema Gold in Havelock North. At the entrance to the theatre was a sign I'd not seen before. It read: "Flu Season: As a courtesy to other patrons in the cinema if you have a cold, sneezing or coughing please cover your mouth and perhaps sit one seat away if possible. Thank you."

Despite its carefully worded politeness, it really got the message across that sick people ought to try to keep their nasty germs to themselves.

Far too often we're out and about when we should be tucked up in bed and unable to pass on bugs to others. I spent fifteen years working in open-plan offices and would cringe every time someone turned up to work despite being visibly and audibly unwell.

It's not heroic; it's selfish and thoughtless. This simple act could make our entire department sick.


I became ultra paranoid about other people's germs when I had a baby. The last thing we wanted to do was bring bugs into the house when we had an (as yet) unvaccinated newborn at home. We were forever washing our hands and taking exaggerated detours around anyone who looked like they were under the weather.

I'm not quite so obsessive now our girl is older but I've lost count of the times over the years when we've been in a shop or on the street and someone almost sneezes on her. In fact they would have sneezed on her had I not become so skilled at pushing her out of the way of such dangers.

But seriously, you can't sneeze on children even if their height puts them directly in your natural sneeze zone. You really need to mind where you're sneezing and cover your nose. Did you really have to be told that?

I have the utmost admiration for people at a meeting who say: "Look, I won't shake your hand; I've been sick."

Sometimes women I play tennis with will say something similar after a match. I'm always so grateful that they're actively trying to not spread their infection.

Once at interclub, to my partner's horror, I feigned a hand injury in order to not have to shake the hand of a woman who'd been coughing and spluttering into it for the entire ninety-minute match.

When I grew up we were taught to cough politely into our hands. Of course, as I learned a few years ago at my daughter's kindergarten, it's now recommended that we cough into the crooks of our arms. I guess it looks a bit strange but it means you're not going to deposit any germs directly from your hand onto the next person or object you touch.

According to, which is championed by the National Influenza Strategy Group, there are about 400 influenza-related deaths each year in New Zealand and the virus is "transferred in droplets of moisture expelled by breathing, coughing and sneezing".


It can also be spread by a person who comes into contact with these droplets who "then touches their own mouth or nose before washing their hands".

Reading the cold, hard facts made me feel vindicated for being so averse to sneezes and coughs all these years.

But I must confess that for the last two winters our family members have chosen to have the influenza vaccination which has given us all that extra peace of mind - especially about our eight-year-old, who's still well and truly in the sneeze path of inconsiderate others in public places.