Can textiles save lives? According to health experts, fabric can play a major role. All you need do is sneeze or cough into your sleeve. When you do, mucus droplets laden with disease-causing organisms are released into fabric where they soon dry and any microorganisms die or become inert. Reportedly, the flu virus can last up to 48 hours on impenetrable surfaces like plastic but survives a shorter time on porous surfaces like paper or cloth. In addition, when you practice what’s now known as “the Dracula sneeze,” microorganisms don’t wind up on your hands, and so aren’t transferred on to telephones, doorknobs, eyes, nose, or mouths.

Everyone’s pushing the “spread the word, not the germs” message. Elmo from Sesame Street will help Health and Human Services in public service ads this month. Schools and health departments in the U.S. and Canada are showing the amusing video, Why Don’t We Do It in Our Sleeves?, created by Ben Lounsbury, M.D., an otorhinolaryngologist (ENT physician). The purpose of the video, says the website, “is to make coughing into one’s sleeve fashionable, even patriotic.”

Speaking of fashion, you’ll find ideas for coping with the H1N1 outbreak wth style online, at which offers N95 respirator facemasks in bandana-style or animal prints. There are also shots on the internet of those who’ve chosen to style their own surgical masks. The CDC says facemasks and respirators are generally not recommended in community and home settings, except possibly for persons at increased risk of severe illness from flu or who are in crowded community settings where the flu has been diagnosed. If you fall into one of those groups, though, you’ve now got fashion options.