During flu season, washing hands frequently (with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub) can help prevent the spread of germs. If you do get sick with the flu, stay home from work and school until your fever and other symptoms subside. Cover your coughs and sneezes, and use a tissue if possible.
Get a Flu Vaccine
The most important thing you can do to protect yourself and the people around you is get a flu vaccine. It’s safe, widely available, and usually covered by insurance. The shot protects against the most common flu strains that researchers predict will circulate this season. It can also help prevent serious complications from the flu, including pneumonia and respiratory distress like asthma.
The flu virus is primarily spread through airborne droplets that are emitted when someone talks, coughs, or sneezes. The flu can live for hours on surfaces like doorknobs, so touching them and then using your hands to touch your eyes, nose or mouth puts you at risk of infection.
A nasal spray form of the flu vaccine, sold under the brand name FluMist, does not contain live virus and cannot cause the flu. However, it can help prevent the flu in children and adults who are at high risk for flu-related complications. This includes young children, adults 65 years and older, pregnant women, and those with certain health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, or a weakened immune system due to another condition.
Even though vaccines can vary in their ability to protect against flu, most studies show that they significantly reduce the number of sickened and hospitalized people each year. In addition, vaccinated individuals are less likely to transmit the influenza virus to others and may even help prevent community transmission of the virus. This is particularly important since the flu is unpredictable and tends to affect those who are most vulnerable, including pregnant women and elderly adults with underlying health conditions. Getting a flu vaccine can also help free up limited medical resources for the most critically ill.
If you’re sick with flu-like symptoms, such as a cough, runny nose, or sore throat, it’s important to stay home. Your immune system can’t function at its best when you’re sick, and that could lead to more serious health issues. It’s also a good idea to avoid contact with others, including children and elderly adults who may be more vulnerable to getting sick.
Besides getting a flu vaccine, washing your hands frequently and keeping them away from the eyes, mouth, and nose is essential. The flu virus is spread through droplets, and those germs tend to linger on surfaces like doorknobs, phones, computers, and handrails. It’s helpful to keep a supply of alcohol-based hand rub at home, work, and in the car to use throughout the day.
In addition to getting plenty of rest, a healthy diet and regular exercise are also key factors in a strong immune system. Drink plenty of fluids, such as water and herbal tea, and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Vitamins and supplements can help support a strong immune system as well.
Finally, a good amount of hydration is essential in cold and flu season. The flu virus thrives in dry environments, and hydrating keeps your mucous membranes moist.
By following these tips, you can help prevent the flu and other seasonal illnesses. Talk to your Methodist Physicians Clinic healthcare provider for more ways you can maintain a strong, healthy immune system. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, especially for young children, elderly people, and those with pre-existing health conditions. Practicing these nonpharmaceutical interventions, such as wearing a mask and practicing social distancing, can help reduce the flu spread and lessen the burden on our healthcare facilities.
Limit Contact with Others
The flu spreads from person to person via droplets emitted when you cough or sneeze. These viruses can live for hours on hard surfaces and are also transmitted through touch, so washing your hands frequently is important to prevent the spread of germs. Make sure to use soap and water for at least 30 seconds, or even better, hand sanitizer.
Students and staff should be encouraged to wear a mask when caring for or being near ill children or adults. This is especially important in patient intake, triage, and other service areas of the health center. Modifying patient rooms and other workspaces to increase space between students, staff, and patients may help reduce close contact.
Stay away from people who are sick or exhibiting symptoms of the flu. If you must be in close contact with a sick student or staff member, consider having a conversation with them to encourage respiratory etiquette, such as covering their nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing (or with a shirt sleeve or elbow if no tissue is available) and throwing the tissue away afterward.
The flu can be serious, particularly for those who are at higher risk of developing severe illness from the flu, such as older adults, young children, and those with chronic medical conditions or weak immune systems. Seek urgent medical care if you have the flu if you experience: difficulty breathing, pain or pressure in your chest or abdomen; vomiting; sudden dizziness; confusion; or flu-like symptoms that get worse and don’t improve with treatment. In addition, adults with severe symptoms of the flu should seek emergency care if they have a high fever of more than 103°F and a history of underlying heart disease or other cardiac conditions.
Wash Your Hands
One of the best ways to avoid getting the flu (and stopping it from spreading) is simple, yet often overlooked: washing your hands. It may sound like an obvious point, but it’s essential to keep in mind during flu season and year-round.
Flu spreads primarily through droplets that are released when someone with the flu coughs, sneezes or talks. These germs can travel as far as 6 feet, land in the mouths or noses of other people, and be inhaled into their lungs. Flu viruses can also live for hours on surfaces like doorknobs. If you touch a surface that is contaminated with the flu virus and then touch your eyes, ears, nose or mouth, you can get sick.
Wash your hands frequently, especially after using the bathroom and before eating. Make sure to scrub well and to wash under your fingernails, as well. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. If you’re around people who are sick or displaying flu symptoms, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow (the classic shoulder or crook of the arm is preferred). Always wash your hands after coughing or sneezing.
Another way to protect yourself from germs is to build up your immune system by sleeping at least 7 to 9 hours a night, managing or lowering stress levels whenever possible, and following a nutrient-rich diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables. You may also want to talk to your Methodist Physicians Clinic healthcare provider about taking a multivitamin that contains antioxidants and other nutrients known to support the immune system. All of these steps can help strengthen your immunity and reduce the severity of symptoms if you do catch the flu.
Get Plenty of Rest
You can help your child recover from the flu faster if they get plenty of rest. This allows their body to focus on battling the virus. Encourage them to stay at home, and let them do their favorite activities like reading or watching movies in their pajamas. Getting enough sleep also releases “cytokines,” which aid the immune system and fight off infections.
Young children are especially vulnerable to the flu, as they are exposed to more germs than adults in school and daycare settings. They also have underdeveloped immune systems that make it harder for them to fend off the flu. To protect them, be sure to monitor their symptoms and watch for the flu triad: muscle aches, feverish feelings, and coughing.
Children who have the flu are most contagious from the first three to four days, and they may continue to be contagious for up to a week. While they are sick, they should stay at home and avoid contact with other people, as well as cleaning and disinfecting frequently-touched surfaces, such as doorknobs.
In addition to proper hand hygiene, children need to get plenty of rest as they recover from the flu. This will allow their immune systems to fight the infection, as well as prevent them from overexerting themselves or putting themselves at risk of complications, such as pneumonia.
It’s also important to remember that children who have the flu should be monitored closely by their healthcare provider, especially if they are at high risk of developing complications or are in a high-risk group. If they have a high fever, difficulty breathing, bluish lips or face, or other severe symptoms, they should seek medical attention immediately.