Very few people cover their mouths and noses properly when they cough or sneeze, according to a study presented at the 2010 International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases and reported by The Associated Press.

For the study, medical students observed people coughing and sneezing in public places, such as train stations and hospitals. Researchers noted that while three out of four people attempted to cover their coughs and sneezes (thereby helping prevent the spread of germs), two of three used their hands as a handkerchief.

“When you cough into your hands, you cover your hand in virus,” said study author Nick Wilson, MPH, an associate professor of public health at the Otago University campus in Wellington, New Zealand.

After coughing into their hands, people touched doorknobs, furniture and other items, transmitting viruses to people who came into contact with these surfaces, Wilson added.

The findings also showed that people often spit on floors, even in the hospital, another way for viruses to spread.

Health officials recommend people control the spread of infectious diseases by sneezing or coughing into their elbow or using a tissue or handkerchief.

Researchers added that coughing into your hand would be OK, but only if you disinfect your mitts afterward.

Read about how washing your hands can stop the spread of viruses here.