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UC Davis Medical Center

UC Davis Medical Center

Avoid the flu this holiday season

Practice prevention to deal with crowds, stress

boy washing hands
Scrub your hands long enough to sing the "happy birthday" song twice. Turn off the faucet with a paper towel or your elbow.

Whether we’re ready or not, the holiday season arrives like clockwork, accompanied by its faithful sidekick — influenza.  While most people look forward to roasting turkeys and decking their halls, few are thrilled about blowing their nose, running a fever, or coughing continuously.

Needless to say, families and businesses strive to avoid the annual flu infection. This year everyone is also seeking to steer clear of the H1N1 flu. The method for catching either of them is still the same — droplets expelled into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

How do we combat an opponent like the flu, which is both predictable and yet not? Experts say the most powerful tool to protect our health is also the best strategy: prevention. Here are reminders on a few tactics recommended by the Centers for Disease Control to lessen your chances of getting or spreading the seasonal or H1N1 flu.

Prevent

Whether you use soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizing gel, practicing good hand hygiene is the first line of defense against the flu. Other solutions include the following:

Immunize. Get your flu shots. While vaccines don't completely ward off the flu, they can reduce the risk and severity. The H1N1 flu requires a separate vaccination from your seasonal flu shot, as it is a different virus.

Wash your hands. Scrub long enough to sing the "happy birthday song" twice. Rinse well and turn off the faucet with a paper towel or your elbow.

Turn and cough. Practice good cough etiquette. Use your upper arm or elbow to catch coughs or sneezes, if tissues are unavailable. Wash your hands.

Avoid crowds. Flu spreads quickly where large groups gather. Avoid or limit activities that involve close proximity.

Disinfect

Prevention takes persistence and repetition of cough etiquette, good hand hygiene, and not touching your face. But the reward for all this diligence is good health.

The CDC recommends routinely cleaning and sanitizing rooms, commonly used objects and surfaces that could harbor germs. Use household cleaning products and follow the label instructions for effectiveness.

Surfaces. Germs can live for two hours or longer on surfaces like door knobs, desks, and tables. When cleaning, use paper towels that you can throw away, or disposable wipes. You may even wish to sanitize your cell phone with a disinfecting wipe.

Laundry. You don’t need to segregate a sick person’s sheets and towels, but avoid “hugging” the laundry before washing it; otherwise it could contaminate you. Wash your hands right after handling the dirty laundry.

Separate, not shared

To reduce the risk of catching the flu, practice social distancing, which means keeping physical distance from others — definitely a challenge during the holiday season. Besides using the Internet to accomplish tasks, here are several steps businesses and individuals can take to minimize the spread of infection:

Day care

  • Teachers: Separate childcare classes into smaller groups and hold activities outdoors as much as possible. Remind children, families and staff to stay home if they feel ill. Regularly clean items that have frequent contact, such as toys and play areas.
  • Parents: Remind your children not to share cups or eating utensils. If your child develops flu-like symptoms, keep him or her at home for at least 24 hours after the fever has passed, following CDC instructions.

Office

  • Routinely clean common surfaces, such as telephones, computers, and copiers. Use disinfecting wipes or products recommended for cleaning these areas.
  • Try not to use other workers' phones, desks, offices or equipment. 
  • Minimize face-to-face meetings; use conference calls or Internet-based meetings instead.

Home

  • If possible, keep a sick family member away from the common areas of the house and ask them to use a separate bathroom, which should be cleaned daily with a household disinfectant.
  • Clean your hands frequently. Use paper towels, or designate different colored towels for each family member.
  • Pregnant women and other high-risk individuals should not be the designated caregiver for someone with the flu. If this situation is unavoidable, consider wearing a face mask and respirator.

Persistence

Influenza germs are everywhere: vending machines, movie theaters, elevator buttons, grocery carts. Prevention takes persistence and repetition of cough etiquette, good hand hygiene, and not touching your face. But the reward for all this diligence is good health.

So seek extra rest, get lots of fluids, make your list and check it twice, and then — sanitize your hands!