What Should You Do If Someone Coughs On You? Here’s How To Avoid Getting Sick

Ad failed to load

Picture this: You're on your daily commute to work, fully concentrating on your podcast, when, out of the corner of your eye, you notice someone near you with their face scrunched up, eyes watering, trying their hardest not to cough until they lose the battle and let loose in your general direction. You're not sure if they coughed on you, but with this flu season, you don't want to take any chances. Fortunately, science has some answers on what you should do if someone coughs on you to avoid getting sick.

"We know the flu bug isn’t very resilient once it is outside your body," Lisa Yakas, a microbiologist and Senior Certification Project Manager at NSF International, tells Bustle. "Studies have shown that it generally only lives for a few minutes to a few hours." Therefore, staying out of the way of someone else's cough or sneeze, as well as keeping your hands away from surfaces airborne germs could have come into contact with, is your first line of defense for not contracting an illness. But what else can you do, proactively, to avoid getting sick?

Your number-one thing to do to not get sick, particularly with the flu, is to get your flu shot. If it's available and recommended for you, as it is for the vast majority of people over the age of 18 months, you should get the flu vaccine every year. A 2015 study noted that college students who were popular should be among the first to consider getting a jab, both because they'd influence others, and because they were more likely than introverts to spread flu viruses. Getting a flu vaccine every year is necessary because flu strains differ between seasons, and new antibodies are continually being developed to help refine the medical community's response to the threat of flu. It's also not too late to get your shot, if you haven't yet — the CDC predicts that flu season could go through March of 2018. While flu vaccines aren't completely effective — the CDC emphasizes that this year's vaccine is only around 10 percent effective — it's a necessary addition to your immune system's arsenal to help it get through.

Ad failed to load

Another thing you can do to prevent yourself from contracting the flu is to wear a mask when you're out in public. A 2013 study from the University of Maryland into the spread of contagious colds and flu found that face masks are actually effective at keeping contagion down when used on ill patients, but of course it will block the entrance of cold and flu germs into your system if you wear one while healthy. It was one of the first major studies on whether sterile surgical masks can be used to combat flu's "aerosol shedding" — the transmission of flu particles through the air, usually through sneezing and coughing, but also breathing — and found that flu patients were significantly less likely to infect those around them if they wore surgical masks regularly; the amount of virus spread reduced by 3.4 fold overall. It might get you strange looks, but wearing a mask if you're ill yourself, or enforcing a mask on an ill person who's in your vicinity, could save everybody's immune system some bother.

If you haven't been able to take these preventative measures, there are still things you can do to keep illness at bay. Got some hand sanitizer in your purse? If not, get some, pronto. Research notes that hand sanitizers are more effective at preventing the spread of infection and contagious viruses than simple soap and water: A 2010 study from the American Society for Microbiology, for instance, found that hand sanitizers dramatically reduce the spread of rhinovirus for up to four hours after they're used. If you've interacted with somebody who's ill, disinfect your hands and anything they might have touched (or sneezed on), and continue to use it in public areas during times when illnesses are at their height.

Ad failed to load

Once you're at home, there are some science-approved ways to support your immune system to give yourself a better chance of fighting off the cold or flu. We're increasingly learning that humidity can have a big influence on the spread of the flu and cold diseases, and that central heating and air conditioning, by drying out the air, can help spread illnesses. A 2015 study from Virginia Tech noted that the drier the air, the more preserved and effective virus "droplets" become. If humidity is over 50 percent and under 98 percent, viruses have a much lower rate of survival in the air. However, saunas and other humid spaces are also confined, making them problematic places if you happen to be inside one with a sneezing person. Keep your living and working spaces as humid as you can, but also use ventilation if possible.


And here's one you probably didn't realize could help your immune system: A fascinating study published in 2017 in Nature found that the presence of certain lactic acids in the gut appeared to have a valuable role in protecting the body against influenza viruses. The lactic acid the scientists were using was a strain called Lactobacillus casei DK128, which they isolated from the Korean fermented vegetable delicacy kimchi. They used a version of it on mice and found it was actually pretty effective in fighting flu. Kimchi and other fermented foods are enjoying a vogue right now, and aiding the immune system in the fight against flu viruses is yet another reason to add them to your menu.

Ad failed to load

Finally, if you feel yourself getting the flu, it doesn't hurt to get yourself to a doctor. If the flu is in its early stages, antiviral medication can help lessen the severity of the illness. Then, if you do find yourself having become ill, stay home from work, wear a mask — basically, do unto others as you'd want them to have done unto you in the first place. But until then, there are other methods suggested by scientific studies that can prove effective for keeping your health intact, and don't require you to go around in a hermetically sealed space suit. That's pretty anti-social, anyway.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

Here's Where Your Next Trip Should Be, Based On Your Zodiac Sign

If you've been craving a vacation, now is a good time to take the plunge. According to data collected by travel site Expedia, late winters and early spring are pretty much the best times of the year to go on vacation. Based on average airfare ticket …
By Callie Tansill-Suddath

Bustle's Editors On Jennifer Aniston + Adam Rippon

We've made it to Friday! It's been a pretty hectic week, and the news that Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux are splitting up might have put a damper on your weekend. But, if like many people you have Monday off, hopefully you can sit back and enjo…
By Rachel Simon

This Timeline Of Justin Theroux & Jennifer Aniston's Relationship Will Break Your Heart All Over Again

Just one day after Valentine's Day, actors Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux announced their breakup after seven years together. The celebrity couple, who were married for two-and-half years, separated quietly at the end of last year. This week, th…
By Priscilla Totiyapungprasert

19 Things Your Parents Told You Were Illegal In The '90s

Kids say — and think — the darnedest things. We have overactive imaginations, adults like to mess with us, and we don't always understand everything we hear. That's why some kids call strawberries "straw babies" — a boo-boo so adorable, you don't eve…
By Megan Grant

Why Uggs Are Never Going Away, Whether You Like Them Or Not

Uggs. The word alone can conjure up memories of teenage years, regrettable outfits, and undeniable comfort. But if, like me, you thought that you've already said goodbye to those fleece-lined tan boots, you can think again. It seems fashion has adopt…
By Lauren Sharkey

I Never Want To Write This Essay Again

I don't know where you were when you heard about Wednesday's high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. I don't know what you were doing, or how you tried to process the news. I do know this: you thought to yourself, not again. And yet, again. Of cou…
By Jenny Hollander

Netflix's New Romantic Movie Will Have You Crying Like It's 'The Fault In Our Stars'

Cancer movies are a heartbreaking staple of Hollywood and have been for decades. It's almost a law of nature: new year, new cancer movie. This year, it's Netflix's Irreplaceable You, a heartbreaking original about a longtime couple who get thrown for…
By Olivia Truffaut-Wong

A Study Suggests Drinking Soda Can Affect Your Fertility — But Don’t Freak Out Just Yet

An awful lot of things can affect fecundability — that is, the probability of conceiving within a single menstrual cycle — but can soda really decrease your chances of getting pregnant? A new study suggests that it might, although it turns out that t…
By Lucia Peters

Here Are All The Terms You Need To Know If You’re Watching Olympic Ski Events Right Now

Every four years the Winter Olympics rolls around to remind me that A) there are so many important Winter Olympic sports, and B) I know virtually nothing any of them. And I know for a fact, I'm not alone, I bet most people don't know what the differe…
By Danielle Colin-Thome

Money Actually CAN Buy Happiness — And Science Figured Out Exactly How Much It Costs

You’ve probably heard the saying “Money can’t buy happiness.” Personally, I’d be more than willing to test out that hypothesis myself, but researchers at Purdue University beat me to it. Researchers found that there is an actual amount of money it ta…
By Katie Mitchell

Kate Middleton Made Sales Of This $1 Secret Accessory Spike & She'll Turn You Into A Believer

There's a royal epidemic going on, people. It's one that causes any and everyone to obsess over the royal family's wardrobe and beauty routines, even if it means breaking the bank to look like them. So a frenzy was expected when Kate Middleton report…
By Summer Arlexis

Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu Have Matching Tattoos & The Story Is So Cute

Olympic season gives people the feels. From those shipping Canadian ice dancing pair Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to Shaun White's gold medal win on Tuesday, the feels are real. Now, there's another reason to get all up in your emotions. Adam Rippon a…
By Shea Simmons

A New Study Says Being In A Relationship Could Change Your Taste In Wine — Here's How

I’d be willing to bet that for many of you, a nice bottle of wine is awaiting you in your near future — and if you’re planning on sharing that bottle with a partner, there might be more to your choice than meets the eye: According to recent research,…
By Lucia Peters

Carrie Brownstein On Why Even The Obama Era Should Have Enraged You

An icy January morning soon after Hollywood's show of solidarity for the #MeToo movement at the Golden Globes and almost exactly one year into the Trump Administration feels like a momentous time to be sitting across from Carrie Brownstein. The Sleat…
By Samantha Rollins

Here’s What The Upcoming Year Of The Dog Means For Your Chinese Zodiac Sign

On Feb. 16 the world will celebrate the Chinese New Year, welcoming the Year of the Dog in like the good doggo it is — we hope. A new year means new zodiac predictions for the 365 days ahead. So, what does the Year of the Dog mean for your Chinese zo…
By Brittany Bennett

7 Signs You're Ready To Get Into A Relationship, According To Experts

It can be difficult to tell when you're ready to start dating again. Maybe you're coming off of a bad breakup, maybe you've just been focused on other things. And, ironically, one of the signs that you're ready to be in a relationship is that you're …
By Lea Rose Emery

I Got A Breast Reduction & It Was About So Much More Than The Size Of My Boobs

As a young teenager, I pretty much reached peak physical maturity overnight. One day I was wearing my first training bra a la Lizzie McGuire, and the next I was sweatily fumbling around a Victoria’s Secret with 32DD boobs, trying to summon up the cou…
By Sierra Taylor Horton

This Is, Hands Down, The *Grossest* Thing Babies Do Inside The Womb

Your baby's life in the womb may be safe and warm, but it's also kind of grody. Seriously, the whole process of growing into a human being includes more than a few icky moments along the way. But this is the grossest thing babies do inside the womb b…
via Romper

The 15 Best Fiction Books Of February Feature Tons Of Extraordinary Women

When the cold winds of February blow in, there's nothing I want more than to hide under my covers with a good book. Luckily, there's more than a few fantastic new fiction books coming out this month, so the only tough decision you'll have to make is …
By Melissa Ragsdale

These 10 Drugstore Red Lipsticks Are Under $10 & Actually *Amazing*

I adore makeup. There are few things I like more than getting myself fancied up in the mornings. It's a little ritual I get to do every day that makes me feel prettier and more put together. When my makeup is on, I'm ready to face the world — pun int…
via Romper

17 Moms Reveal The Most Disgusting Part Of Their Pregnancy

Pregnant bodies do weird-ass things. Weird-ass, gross things. I mean, my pregnant body did (twice), and I have long-suspected I'm not alone. So I asked other moms to share the most disgusting part of their pregnancy and I learned that, not only am I …
via Romper