Across the United States, hospitals are reaching their capacity again treating patients with COVID-19. It has become crucial that we do what we can to help prevent the spread of the flu and reduce the burden on the doctors and nurses who have been fighting against COVID-19 for so long.
People with flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away. Most experts think that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. ¹
Beyond that, people with the flu are contagious beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. This means you may be sick with flu and pass it on to someone else before you even experience any symptoms. Children, and some of those with weakened immune systems, may pass on the virus for longer than 7 days. Even if you experience zero symptoms, you are still able to pass the virus on to others. ¹
To keep you and your family healthy all flu season long, let’s look at the 5 best habits to employ to avoid getting and/or spreading the flu.
Keep your distance
Much like COVID-19, adding physical space between yourself and others will significantly reduce your risk of contracting the flu. It is believed that the flu can be spread to others up to approximately 6 feet away, so keeping your distance from others is a great way to protect yourself. Additionally, personal contact with an infected person, such as a handshake or hug, is a common way these viruses spread. ²
Whenever possible, keep interactions outside as the risk for spreading the flu decreases when compared to indoors. However, outdoor transmissions do happen, and being outdoors does not make you immune to contracting or spreading the virus.
Stay home when sick
For flu, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone except to get medical care or other necessities. Fever should be gone without the need to use a fever-reducing medicine. ³ Additionally, people may still be infected with the flu and have respiratory symptoms without fever. Other flu symptoms include cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches, chills, and fatigue. Some people may also have vomiting and diarrhea.
Prescribed antiviral drugs can make your flu milder or shorten the time you are sick and may also reduce the risk of serious complications. Studies have shown that antiviral drugs work best for treatment when they are started within 2 days of getting sick but starting them later can still be helpful. ³ If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, talk with your doctor to see if antiviral prescriptions may be right for you.
Since the flu and other respiratory illness are usually spread via droplets made when people cough, sneeze, or talk – it is crucial that you cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. Additionally, avoid using your hands whenever possible and opt for a tissue or your elbow. COVID-19, RSV, and whopping cough are other examples of respiratory illnesses that can be spread by cough, sneezing, or unclean hands.
Wearing a mask is another great way to prevent the contraction and spread of respiratory illnesses. Public health and clinical laboratories estimated about 38 million people were sick with the flu during the 2019-2020 season. However, the agency reported a mere 2,038 flu cases during the season from Sept. 27, 2020, to April 24, 2021, according to the CDC. ⁴ Experts believe that the social distancing, mask wearing, hand washing, and stay at home prevention measures that were implemented to fight COVID-19, rendered the 2020-2021 flu season virtually nonexistent. As annoying or inconvenient as these measures where, there is no denying that they significantly reduced the spread of the flu.
The single best way to prevent seasonal influenza is to get vaccinated every year. Everyone ages 6 months and older is eligible to get a flu vaccine and it is especially important for those who are a higher risk of developing serious flu complications. Higher risk individuals include young children, pregnant people, people with certain chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, or heart and lung disease, and people ages 65 years and older.
Timing also matters when it comes to getting your flu vaccine. It takes two weeks to be fully protected after receiving your vaccine, so it is best to get it prior to any holiday traveling or celebrations. Additionally, vaccine effectiveness isn’t permanent – which is why we must get the vaccine every year – so it is best to avoid getting it too early so you can be protected throughout the duration of flu season, which typically ends around April. The CDC recommends getting your flu vaccine by the end of October.
This applies to yourself, your home, and your office. Washing your hands with soap and warm water or using an alcohol-based hand rub are the best ways to keep your hands clean. Unclean heads are a leading cause of spread, as flu germs are easily transmissible through touch and can last on surfaces up to 24 hours. You should avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth whenever possible, and routinely clean and sanitize frequently touched objects such as doorknobs, keyboards, and phones.
By implementing these simple, preventative actions into your daily life, you set yourself apart and reduce your risk of exposure, and transmission, of the flu. If we all do our part, we can keep the flu from spreading and protect not only ourselves, but our friends, family, and coworkers. For questions or more information, please contact our team today.