London, England (CNN) -- A UK health agency has warned footballers to stop their "disgusting" habit of spitting as it could lead to the spread of the H1N1 virus.
A spokesman for the country's Health Protection Agency was quoted by the Press Association as saying: "Spitting is disgusting at all times. It's unhygienic and unhealthy, particularly if you spit close to other people.
''Footballers, like the rest of us, wouldn't spit indoors so they shouldn't do it on the football pitch. If they are spitting near other people it could certainly increase the risk of passing on infections."
''It's about setting examples for young people who idolize them,' the spokesman was quoted as saying.
The warning comes after several football teams were struck by the virus commonly known as swine flu, including English Premier League football clubs Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers and French team Paris St. Germain.
The French football league sparked controversy last Sunday when it decided to postpone a match between PSG and Marseille because PSG players Ludovic Giuly and Mamadou Sakho and two members of the coaching team were diagnosed with the H1N1 virus on Saturday.
"What would people have said if the match had gone ahead and the Marseille team had caught the virus? The medical commission gives us their professional opinion. We have to follow it as much as we can," said Frederic Thiriez France's football league president.
The Health Protection Agency later tried to play down the spokesman's comments, saying he had been "misinterpreted."
Spokeswoman Louise Brown told CNN: "Spitting is not a major cause of spreading swine flu infections. Our general advice is that people who have swine flu should stay at home."
She added: "For people with flu, it is essential that they wash their hands if they have coughed or sneezed onto them in order to destroy the virus and help to stop infecting other people."