Tuesday, October 16, 2012

10 things to prevent the flu

Yesterday we talked about seasonal influenza and its symptoms. Today we are talking about what to do to prevent the flu at your house and why it works. Originally I was going to explain all 10 today, but the post was HUGE! So I’ve broken it up into two days. Today I’ll cover the first five on our list of ten: How to prevent the flu by keeping the flu virus from making a home in your respiratory tract. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about last, which five prevent the flu by keeping your immune system strong enough to fight off the virus. All of them except the flu shot will also help prevent other viruses during the cold and flu season.

1. Get a Flu Shot.
I know a lot of people object to getting a flu shot for various reasons. This one deserves its own post so I’ll give the flu shot an entire post next week. I’m not going to try to convince you. Just give you the information so you can decide wisely what is best for your family. If you were planning to get the flu shot but haven’t done it yet, now is the time.

2. Wash your hands.
The flu is believed to spread through droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. If these droplets find their way to the eyes, nose, or throat of another person the virus can grow and cause that person to develop the flu. Studies show that the flu virus can live on your hands for at least an hour after touching the virus. Washing your hands removes the virus. To do this effectively you want to scrub your hands for 20-30 seconds with hot water.

Antibacterial soap is not necessary and may make you more likely to have infection. Because the flu is caused by a virus, and antibacterial soaps kill bacteria not viruses. The antibacterial soaps can also kill the good bacteria on your hands which could leave room for more resistant bacteria. At home good hand washing with regular soap is usually the best solution. Don’t take my word for it, check what the CDC has to say. The guidelines are different if you are a healthcare professional. Again check the CDC article.

If your kids are at school and do not frequently have access to soap and water, than an alcohol based hand sanitizer is the next best choice. In both hand soap and sanitizer avoid products with triclosan because it has been linked with other health problems that you can read more about on the EPA’s site. I just recently became aware of this when I was reading at Kitchen Stewardship.

3. Keep hands away from eyes, nose, and mouth.
If you can keep hands from touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, then you can avoid bringing the virus from your hands to the areas where it can grow and make you sick. This one is a lot easier to say then do. I mean most kids are touching everything including faces.  Theirs and yours. And babies love to grab everything and put it in their mouth. If you have kids that are too young to teach not to touch, that makes the hand washing and cleaning more important.
 If you have bigger kids you might try to make it a game. Maybe something like a reverse chore chart. Start with a number of stars and every time your child touches eyes, nose or mouth take a star away. The kid with the more starts left at the end of the day wins something special.
flu cough sneeze
CC Image courtesy of SCA on Flickr

4. Cough and sneeze into your elbow.
The goal here is to keep the droplets with potential viruses out of the air and off hands. If you cough into your hand and then touch something before you wash your hands then you have left germs somewhere. I think the schools are pretty good about teaching this. At least mine have come home and told me that they were encouraged to cough into their elbows.  If your kids are too little to learn to use their elbow, you might try a tissue.

5. Clean hard surfaces
Cleaning is most important if you have had someone in the house that is ill. The flu virus cannot live very long at all on soft surface, but according to the CDC it can survive on hard surfaces for 2-8 hours. The good news is that alcohol, hand dish soap, and 5% vinegar have all been shown to kill the flu virus. If you clean with a commercial product, check the label to see if it kills the flu virus. Remember, antibacterial does not mean antiviral.
OK, so tomorrow we will be onto the things to do to keep your immune system at its best.
See my disclaimer here.

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