Should you leave the room when you cough or sneeze?

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US President Donald Trump set off conversations on cough etiquette after it emerged he asked an aide to leave the Oval Office for coughing during an interview. Plenty of people shared his irritation – so what is the right thing to do?

“If you’re going to cough, please leave the room,” said Mr Trump after Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff, cleared his throat. 

“You just can’t cough… he’s coughing in the middle of my answer. I don’t like that.”

The online response to the #MulvaneyCough has been mixed, with some joking that it’s the first time the divisive president has been relatable, while others say it shows what an insensitive boss he must be.

Though Mr Trump’s ire seemed mostly due to the interruption, his distaste for coughing isn’t surprising – the president is a self-professed germaphobe.

A 2005 book, The World According to Trump, quoted him as saying: “I mean, they have medical reports all the time. Shaking hands, you catch colds, you catch the flu, you catch this. You catch all sorts of things. Who knows what you don’t catch?”

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But Mr Trump is not the only famous face with a distaste for coughing and sneezing – Vince McMahon, an American pro-wrestling executive, reportedly has a no-sneezing rule around him.

And Obama-era Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius also once scolded a journalist during a press briefing for not sneezing into his elbow, half-jokingly calling for hand sanitiser and a lesson on how to sneeze properly.

So what is the best way to sneeze or cough in a public place?

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Crystal L Bailey, director of the Etiquette Institute of Washington, says: “The idea is to avoid people as much as possible when you do need to sneeze or cough.

“There was a time when we would have used handkerchiefs, but if there’s a tissue available or if you’re able to sneeze into your elbow… make sure that happens. That you move yourself and your mouth and face in the opposite direction of anyone else.”

If that isn’t possible – say, on a crowded train – Ms Bailey advises trying to get to an elbow, not a hand, so you avoid spreading germs on handrails or other surfaces people might touch.

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