Families & Health

Preventing the Flu

Don’t let your guard down. Even though the holidays have passed and you may not be thinking about the flu and cold season, February is most often the peak time for seasonal flu. Outbreaks can happen as early as October and can last as late as May. Experts with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend these steps to prevent seasonal flu and colds:

Get vaccinated

flu_shot A yearly flu vaccine is the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses. The vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, and missed work and school due to flu. It also can prevent flu-related hospitalizations and deaths.

Not only is it a good preventative measure for your personal health, but it also protects the people around you.

Everyone six months of age and older should get a flu vaccine. Vaccination of high-risk persons is especially critical—young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions (like asthma, diabetes, or heart and lung disease) and people 65 years and older. Infants younger than six months are at high risk, but are too young to be vaccinated, so people who care for them should be vaccinated instead. Vaccination is also important for health care workers, and people who live with or care for high-risk people.

Contact your doctor’s office, local clinic, health department or pharmacy to get information about how to get your flu vaccination.

Wash your hands frequently and correctly

hand washing Wash hands after using the restroom or changing a diaper. Before and after preparing, serving, and eating food. After touching pets and animals or any outdoor activities. Before and after visiting a sick person. And, especially important, during the height of flu and cold season, after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.

Properly washing hands is just as important as washing them in the first place. Remove jewelry. Start with warm water and soap. Cover the fronts and backs of hands and wrists with a soapy lather. Thoroughly scrub in between fingers and around nails, using a nail brush if available. Wash for at least 20 seconds or as long as it takes to sing the “ABCs” or “Happy Birthday”. Rinse well. With a clean towel, turn off the water. Dry hands.

If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of microbes on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not get rid of all types of germs.

Set an example and remind others to wash, too. Not everyone knows and practices good hand washing habits. Teach children the basics. Put up a reminder poster in your home and workplace. Fun posters are available at http://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/posters.html and http://www.cleaninginstitute.org/cleanhandspublications/.

Know and practice good “cough etiquette”.

elbow cough “Germs” are bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa that are easily spread when people cough, sneeze or talk. Droplets land on noses, mouths, eyes or on surfaces. Good cough etiquette is using a disposable tissue or coughing/sneezing onto a shirt sleeve. Keep tissues handy.

You’re at risk every time you touch your eyes, nose or mouth after coughing or sneezing into your hands—so, avoid touching them. In fact, one of the most common ways people catch something is by rubbing their nose or eyes after the cold virus has gotten on their hands.

Clean surfaces

Flu viruses can live on surfaces for about two to eight hours, so decontaminating common surfaces can help to reduce the amount of microbes and minimize your exposure. Cell phones, door knobs, refrigerator handles, light switches, desks, remote controls, computers and toys are literally covered in bacteria.

Use a clean cloth or sponge along with disinfectants or sanitizers that are designed to kill bacteria, viruses and/or fungi on surfaces. Look for the words “disinfect,” “disinfectant,” “antibacterial” or “sanitize” on the label, as well as an EPA registration number. This ensures that the product has met EPA requirements for killing germs. Always follow instructions on products before using, and keep products out of children’s reach during use and storage.

Keep your distance

Watch for flu-like symptoms of fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people may also have vomiting and diarrhea. It is possible people may be infected with the flu and have respiratory symptoms without fever.

Avoid close contact with sick people. Flu can be passed to others even a day before symptoms begin and it is easily transmitted for a week after you first notice the symptoms.

If you are sick with flu-like symptoms, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)

Take the flu seriously. More than just an uncomfortable nuisance, the flu can lead to costly hospitalizations and even death. To learn more, visit the CDC’s website at www.cdc.gov.