Minding your manners by covering your cough or sneezing into your sleeve isn't just polite; it also leads to better health. According to a new global study, people with good hygiene etiquette are more likely to have fewer cases of colds.

The finding comes from the Lysol HABIT Study (Hygiene: Attitudes, Behaviour, Insight, and Traits), a survey of 12,000 respondents in 12 countries that was sponsored by the makers of Lysol disinfecting products.

The study explored how certain demographics and personality traits influence hygiene practices by asking respondents to answer 130 questions on hand-washing, housekeeping, their history of health problems, and other issues.

It found that the biggest determinant of reported good health was good manners.

The odds of having low levels of colds and diarrhea were almost two-and-a-half times higher among those who reported "embarrassment" at sneezing or coughing on others.

Dr. Donald Low, an infectious diseases expert with Toronto's Mount Sinai hospital says it's not surprising that people who respect other's health and who try to protect them from getting colds tend to use proper hygiene for themselves as well.

"If you're somebody who coughs into your sleeve and tries not to cough on your friends, you're probably more likely to be the same type of person who washes their hands a lot to protect yourself," Low told CTV's Canada AM Wednesday.

He says avoiding colds and avoiding spreading them often just boils down to common sense.

"What your mother taught you isn't just politeness; it actually works. It just took a 12,000-person study to prove it," he said.

The Lysol HABIT Study found that Canadian women were more hygienic than men. Women were found to be two times more likely than men to say they wash their hands regularly, and two-and-a-half times more likely to practice good household hygiene.

Homemakers reported the highest level of household hygiene and students, the lowest.

"That's no surprise. If you've ever been in a dorm, it's not usually a place you want to go into," Low said.

Canadians with "neurotic behaviours" reported fewer incidences of contagious illnesses than those who do not display traits of neurosis.

Among the 12 countries surveyed, Canada had the fourth highest rate of good personal hygiene. Brazil and Germany ranked the highest, and China, Malaysia and South Africa the lowest

Canada also reported the second highest household hygiene levels. U.K. and Australia tied for the highest rank, and China, Malaysia and Middle East ranked the lowest.

Household hygiene is important for avoiding colds too because, as Dr. Low points out, bacteria can survive a long time after we've coughed or sneezed them out.

"Bacteria can survive on surfaces like this," Low said, pointing to the desk below him.

"If you sneeze onto a surface like this, or into your hand, and then touch surfaces, those bacteria can survive for hours. And there have been some pretty good studies that show that this one of the mechanisms by which influenza is transmitted."

As for other ways to avoid colds and flu, Low recommends getting the flu vaccine.

"We had a very bad flu season last year and a lot of us didn't get vaccinated. The vaccine is going to be available in a couple of weeks," he said.

The flu strains included in this year's vaccine will be the same strains used in last year's. But that doesn't mean that people who got the flu shot last year don't need to face the needle again this year.

Those most at risk of the complications of flu, such as young children, the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions, may now have immune systems that can generate a robust or long-lasting response to the vaccine.

It's estimated that the flu vaccine is about 70 per cent effective overall -- though that's only when there's a good match between the three strains chosen for the vaccine and those that end up actually circulating among humans.