It happens all the time; one family member gets the flu, and, before you know it, everyone else has it too. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu germs can spread even before symptoms appear, and you can infect others up to a week after you first become sick. However, by practicing a few simple rules at home, you can help keep your family well and prevent the flu from spreading.
Health experts say getting vaccinated is the single most important thing you can do to prevent the flu. There are now three main types of seasonal flu vaccine: the flu shot, the high-dose flu shot, and the nasal spray vaccine.
The flu shot is recommended for all individuals 6 months and older. The high-dose flu shot (Fluzone High-Dose) was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for those ages 65 and over. The immune system response weakens with age, so this vaccine (while still being studied) may help improve immune response and thus increase prevention of the flu. The nasal spray vaccine is approved for healthy people aged between two and 49 years, and women under 50 who are not pregnant. Individuals with chronic health conditions are not advised to take the nasal spray vaccine.
The flu vaccine (in any form) does not cause the flu virus. However, some individuals may experience mild symptoms of fever, headache, chills, or soreness at the injection site. These symptoms are typically mild and go away within one to two days. Talk to your doctor before receiving the vaccine if you are severely allergic to eggs or mercury, or if you have had a negative reaction to a vaccine in the past.
Schedule your family's vaccinations in the fall before the start of flu season, preferably in October or November.
Flu shots are now administered in many local grocery stores and pharmacies without an appointment, which can be convenient for busy families.
Flu germs are believed to spread through droplets from the mouth and nose. Use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue away immediately and wash your hands. If there's no tissue handy, cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow. Help your kids to practice these habits as well.
According to the CDC, flu germs can live for two to eight hours on hard surfaces. That's why it's so easy to pick up flu germs without knowing it. You can get infected if you touch an infected doorknob or light switch and then rub your eyes or bite your nails. Learning to keep your hands away from your face can be tough, especially for children, but remind them (and yourself) often.
Use soap and warm water and scrub for 15 seconds Stock up on alcohol-based hand sanitizers for areas where sinks aren't available. Remind kids to wash up each time they use the bathroom, before they eat, and after they come home from school or a play date. Remember to set a good example, too.
If someone in your family does get sick, he or she should stay home to prevent the flu from spreading. Try to limit close contact with this individual as much as you can while he or she is contagious (up to a week). Change sleeping arrangements, if possible, and avoid sharing washcloths, towels, dishes, toys, and utensils.
Flu germs and viruses love to lurk on kitchen sponges, dishcloths, cutting boards, home desks, bathroom and kitchen floors, sinks, and toilets. Clean and disinfect these hot spots regularly. You can microwave your kitchen sponge for one minute to zap germs—or better yet, throw it out.
If someone in your household has the flu, take special care when washing his or her things. Wash dishes and silverware thoroughly by hand or in the dishwasher. You don't have to do a sick person's laundry separately, but try to avoid scooping up an armload of items and holding them close before washing them. Use laundry soap and dry on a hot setting. Always wash your hands immediately after handling dirty laundry.
Don't forget the power of a healthy lifestyle to fight off sickness. Getting plenty of sleep, eating well, drinking lots of fluids, exercising, and managing stress can go far in keeping your immune system healthy and your family well this flu season.