Teach kids to cough like ‘Dracula' to stop spread of germs

As little ones are gearing up for trick-or-treating, it's also the time of year when seasonal viruses are heading door-to-door.

According to Dr. Frank Esper, of Cleveland Clinic Children's, Halloween season is the perfect time to teach kids to channel their inner "Dracula" by learning to cough into their elbows.

"What we try to do, is we try to teach kids to cough into a place where we don't touch other people," he said. "Our elbow has been one of the best things that we have found over the last years, so, when we cough into our arm, and into our elbow, we don't have to worry about moving those germs from place to place." 

Esper said when we cough into the open air, we can actually send germs as far as 3 to 5 feet in front of us. And some germs stay suspended for a while -- such as measles- - which can hang out in the air for hours.

He said when kids "catch a cough" in their hands, it may stop the cough, but then they have germs on their hands and those germs will spread when they touch other people and objects.

"When we touch other people, or we touch a door knob, and somebody else touches that door knob, or we hand people money, we are transferring germs from our hands to their hands," Esper said. "So, if we start coughing into our hands, unfortunately, that actually helps move the germs from person to person."

Esper recommends teaching kids at a young age to "cough like Dracula" and tuck their nose into their elbow, just like Dracula wrapping his face in his cape, so it becomes a habit.

But, he reminds parents that little kids will forget, so it's important to also teach them good hand-washing skills.

He said washing hands for about 20 seconds is ideal to get rid of all of the viruses and bacteria.

"A lot of times, children are very happy to learn how to wash their hands. They are just sponges for information," Esper said. "You teach them to wash their hands early and often, especially when they're sick, or when they're wiping their nose, or they're playing with someone who's wiping their nose, it is one way to keep them healthy." 

Esper said kids under the age of 3 are not especially good at washing their hands, so in these instances, using some alcohol-based hand sanitizer is often the best course of action.