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By Elizabeth Rahavi, RD  Date: 9/21/09

Last week NBC News correspondent, Chuck Todd found himself making news, rather than reporting it. The story goes: in the middle of a press briefing with Department of Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, Todd sneezed. Sebelius, being polite, looked over to say "bless you," and to her surprise noticed that Todd was improperly sneezing into his hands. In the moment, Sebelius motioned to Todd to sneeze into his upper sleeve. You can watch the video here.

Sneezing:  it's a simple act of human nature that we all do from time to time. In fact, as I write this blog post a colleague is sneezing just down the hall. Millions of sneezes (and germs) go unnoticed all day long, so why should we care about them? Furthermore, why should someone at such a high level in government, like Secretary of Health and Human Services who has to concern herself with important programs, including drug and food safety, get so caught up with a sneeze?

Perhaps it goes back to the fundamental mission of the agency, which is to protect the health of all Americans. Public health doesn't begin and end with one person. However, what Sebelius understands is that for a public health messages to be successful, everyone needs to be invested in the purpose and take part in communicate the message, regardless of where they sit in the organization's hierarchy.

With the H1N1 virus likely headed to a city near you, no time is better than the present to take a refresher course on proper sneezing etiquette. In their effort to help stop the spread of germs that can make others sick, the CDC has developed simple communications materials and messages to share with the public.

This is just one teachable moment on the importance of message multipliers in creating successful public health campaigns. What other teachable moments are out there?


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