This flu season is already worse than the last – and it’s not over yet.
The influenza virus has been declared widespread in every state except Hawaii, Washington, D.C, California, and Mississippi. Public health emergencies have been declared in Boston and New York state.
If you’re tired of reading about “flu emergencies” and hearing about the rising numbers, there’s one thing you can do: Don’t become the next person infected, or if you’ve already caught it, don’t infect others. We’ve rounded up 15 tips to help.
How to avoid catching the flu
- Get vaccinated. If you ignored our advice in September to get a flu shot before the flu season started, it’s not too late. While some locations have stopped offering it, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said last week that supplies of the 2012-2013 vaccine are still available – and still the best prevention.
- Wash your hands – well and often. It’s the next-best way to avoid contagious illnesses like the flu virus. For a refresher course on how to properly wash your hands, check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s written and video instructions.
- Carry hand sanitizer or alcohol wipes for when you don’t have access to soap and water.
- Avoid touching your face. Flu germs often enter our body through the mucous membranes of our eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Avoid knobs, handles, countertops, keyboards, and other shared surfaces, and wash your hands after touching them. It’s also wise to regularly clean such surfaces with alcohol wipes, especially if you live or work with someone who has the flu. According to the Mayo Clinic, the flu virus can stay alive for up to 48 hours outside of the body, especially on hard surfaces.
- Take care of yourself. When you’re sick or trying to avoid getting sick, it’s especially important to get enough sleep, drink enough fluids, eat healthy, and minimize stress.
- Quit smoking. It damages the tiny hairs (cilia) and mucous that line our airways and serve to protect us against infection-causing bacteria and viruses.
How to avoid spreading the flu
- Wash your hands.
- Don’t sneeze into the air. Those microscopic droplets that fly when you sneeze are infectious, so try to sneeze into a tissue, your hands (and immediately wash them after), or even your elbow instead.
- Use tissues and paper towels – and promptly throw them away – instead of reusing a handkerchief.
- Limit contact with others as much as possible.
- Stay home from work if at all possible.
- Avoid children and the elderly, both of whom are especially susceptible to the flu. According to the CDC’s latest weekly flu report, 20 children have died of the virus since Sept. 30, 2012.
- Contact your doctor ASAP. Antiviral medications like Tamiflu can help relieve your symptoms and shorten the duration of your infection, but they work best if taken within 48 hours of getting sick. Check out the CDC’s What You Should Know About Flu Antiviral Drugs Q&A to learn more.
- Forget antibiotics. They may seem tempting because they worked on your last bacterial infection – or because your doctor offered them to you. But antibiotics never work on viral infections like the flu, so you’d just be wasting your money. In fact, antibiotics are one of the most overused medical treatments.