Precautions to stem flu spread not taken, study says

Despite warnings that it would aid in the spread of H1N1, approximately one out of every four people failed to cover their mouths when they cough, research presented at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases revealed.

Nick Wilson, author of the study and a professor at Otago University Wellington in New Zealand, told the results of the study were alarming.

“We were surprised to find that this was the first study of directly observed respiratory hygiene behavior that we could identify,” Wilson told

One of the biggest precautionary measures during the spread of the H1N1 pandemic last year was for people to cover their mouths when coughing. Wilson and his colleagues set out to see how well this advice was heeded.

The observational survey was conducted in three public areas in New Zealand's capital city of Wellington - a train station, a hospital and a shopping mall. Medical students were used as observers, according to the  report.

Observers noted that, out of 5.5 coughs and sneezes per observed-person-hour, 26.7 percent went uncovered and only 4.7 percent of coughs were covered with a tissue, handkerchief or elbow.

“This study showed a low prevalence of recommended respiratory hygiene behaviors suggesting that hygiene messages promoted in mass media campaigns have not been seen and/or have not been readily adopted by the public in this city,” Wilson's report said, reports.