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Coughs and sneezes spread diseases

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Coughs and sneezes spread diseases

Extract from Ministry of Health - Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases (catalogue reference INF 13/188)

Extract from Ministry of Health - Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases (catalogue reference INF 13/188)

20 May 2009

With public health campaigns still an important means of communicating messages to the nation, The National Archives highlights some of the topical public information posters and films from the Second World War and beyond.

The government department responsible for publicity and propaganda during the Second World War was the Ministry of Information. The Central Office of Information (COI) was established in 1946, following the dissolution of the wartime Ministry of Information. Today, the COI works with other government departments and the public sector to produce information campaigns on issues that affect the lives of every citizen - from health and education to benefits, rights and welfare.


Coughs and Sneezes is a public information film first shown to audiences in 1945. The amusing, somewhat slapstick approach had a very serious message behind it: 'Coughs and sneezes spread diseases'. An important aim of the whole 'coughs and sneezes' campaign was to fight absenteeism, as well as warning people of the dangers of spreading germs.

The 1948 film Don't Spread Germs warns of the necessity of disinfecting handkerchiefs, showing that mobilising the country to act collectively was as much a concern post-war as it was during the war.


A cartoon scene of a man sneezing in a crowded cinema, designed by Herbert Mayo Bateman in October 1942, was also part of the 'coughs and sneezes' campaign launched by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Information. The poster can be viewed in The Art of War online exhibition.

Coughs and sneezes campaign poster - link to pop up image

Other information on the 1940s public health drive can be found on Your Archives with details of the artist, Carl Giles, and his poster for the Ministry of Information (INF 3/407F).

Posters that form part of the 'coughs and sneezes' campaign (see right) can be found in the catalogue at BN 10/218, INF 13/188 and INF 13/189.


Current guidance from the National Health Service (NHS) and the Department of Health shows that, while the designs may have changed, the message is still very much the same.

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