Tips for Avoiding the Flu This Season

Cover your Cough to prevent germs from spreading.
You can always cure your child's cough, but you can teach them to cover their cough so that they don't spread their germs to others. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

The flu season a few years ago was one of the worst in recent years. In addition to an early start, widespread cases across the United States, a strain of flu going around that was not included in that year's vaccine, there were multiple cases of children dying from flu (most unvaccinated).

Fortunately, a plentiful supply of flu vaccine (171 to 179 million doses this year), provides most people with the best way to avoid the flu - a yearly flu vaccine.

If you can not get a flu shot and you are exposed to someone with the flu, you might ask your doctor about prescribing an antiviral drug to help prevent you from getting sick. These flu drugs include Tamiflu (oseltamivir). Although usually only prescribed for 10 days after your flu exposure, they can also be used long-term for the whole flu season if you are considered high risk for getting seriously ill from the flu and you did not get a flu shot.

Tamiflu, along with Relenza (zanamivir), can also be used as treatment if you get sick with the flu. As a flu treatment, they can shorten the time a person infected with influenza feels ill by approximately 1 day if treatment is started during the first 2 days of illness.

Other Tips to Avoid the Flu

Whether or not you got a flu shot, since it isn't 100% effective, you should follow these steps to help prevent you and your family from getting sick with the flu:

  • Wash your hands often. Remember that one of the most common ways people catch colds and the flu is by rubbing their nose or their eyes after their hands have been contaminated with a virus. By washing your hands often, especially:
    • before, during, and after you prepare food
    • before you eat, and after you use the bathroom
    • after handling animals or animal waste
    • when your hands are dirty, and
    • more frequently when someone in your home is sick,
    you may avoid getting sick yourself and keep your kids from getting sick too.
  • Routinely clean, with soap and water, and disinfect surfaces, toys, and objects that younger children may put in their mouths. It may also help to wipe surfaces with paper towels that can be thrown away or cloth towels that can be washed afterward.
  • Use disposable tissues to wipe or blow your child's nose.
  • Cover your cough. Teach your children 'cough etiquette', which the American Academy of Pediatrics describes as teaching children to turn their heads and cough or sneeze into a disposable tissue or the inside of their elbow if they don't have a tissue, instead of simply coughing or sneezing onto their hands, which will then spread their germs onto everything they touch.​
  • Avoid close contact with people when you are sick. It isn't really possible to completely avoid people who are sick, so it is likely better if you just avoid exposing other people to your germs when you or your kids are sick. So don't go to school, daycare, work, etc., if you are sick with the flu.
  • Avoid unnecessary contact with a lot of people for your younger children. It isn't easy to always tell when people are sick and some people are contagious even before they start to have symptoms, so don't expose your younger kids to large crowds of people if you don't have to.
  • Take a reusable water bottle to school, like a Sigg or CamelBak, instead of using the school water fountain, which may become contaminated with germs, especially during cold and flu season.

One of the most important thing that you can do to keep from getting sick is to wash your hands often. Unfortunately, many people, especially kids, either do not wash their hands often enough or don't do it correctly.

When should you wash your hands?

You should wash your hands often. Probably more often than you do now because you can't see germs with the naked eye or smell them, so you do not really know where they are hiding.

It is especially important to wash your hands

  • Before, during, and after you prepare food
  • Before you eat, and after you use the bathroom
  • After handling animals or animal waste
  • When your hands are dirty, and
  • More frequently when someone in your home is sick.

What is the correct way to wash your hands?

  • First, wet your hands and apply liquid or clean bar soap. Place the bar soap on a rack and allow it to drain.
  • Next rub your hands vigorously together and scrub all surfaces.
  • Continue for 10 to 15 seconds or about the length of a little tune. It is the soap combined with the scrubbing action that helps dislodge and remove germs.
  • Rinse well and dry your hands.
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Article Sources
  • CDC. Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) — United States, 2014–15 Influenza Season. MMWR. August 15, 2014 / 63(32);691-697