Flu 101

Prevention is not rocket science—just use common sense and these tips

The No. 1 way to stop the spread of influenza is also just plain common sense: Wash your hands. It doesn’t get any simpler than that! Wash your hands every time you shake hands, open a door or handle something new. Wash your hands when they look dirty and when they don’t. When you get off the light rail, wash your hands. When you put down that library book, wash your hands.

Wash them with soap and warm water for the time it takes to sing a good children’s song—“Itsy Bitsy Spider” works quite well. If you don’t have a clean towel or a paper towel, let them air dry. If you don’t have access to soap and warm water, use a hand sanitizer.

But keep those hands clean, and keep them away from your face.

Second, if you’re sick, stay home. This is a big damn deal. Do not go out and expose other people to your nasty bugs. I’m talking to you, Typhoid Mary! Stay home until you’ve been fever-free for 24 hours without using fever-reducing medicine. The vast majority of hospitalizations and deaths—yes, deaths—associated with the flu are the result of complications that follow the influenza infection, especially pneumonia. Staying home and resting until you’re well will help prevent those complications.

Yes, I know you’re so freakin’ important that the world is going to stop like a monkey with a tin cymbal if you’re not there to wind it up. Yeah, right. There’s nothing at work that you can’t talk somebody through over the phone or send e-mail instructions about.

OK, wait—reality check. If there’s anything in your life that can’t wait for you to get over a fever, you need more help than SN&R can possibly provide. Find a shrink, sweetie, because your life is seriously out of control.

Third, sneeze or cough into a tissue or your sleeve. Do not spread your droplets of germ-crawling bodily fluids throughout the entire room. No kidding—a droplet of fluid from coughs and sneezes travels up to 3 feet. They can survive on doorknobs, light switches and shared equipment (including phones). Your flu-ridden snot from a sneeze or cough is as dangerous to your uninfected co-workers as the spray from a squirt gun. Instead of sending the bugs flying, catch them in a tissue (if you’re really classy) or in the elbow of your sleeve (if you have a thing for Dracula poses). Hey, call it the “batwing sneeze move” if you like, but at least you’re not sending your virus-laden, microscopic snot into the respiratory systems of the people around you.

Oh, and when you’re done? Throw the tissue away and wash or sanitize your hands.

We live in a region noted for natural disasters: floods, fires, earthquakes. An epidemic of infectious disease is about as natural as you can get, so play like a Boy Scout and be prepared and make a plan.

Set up an emergency flu kit (or just add to your already-stocked emergency kit). Include fever-reducing medicine, plenty of tissues, cough drops, a thermometer, latex gloves and cleaning supplies (bathrooms used by sick people should be cleaned daily). If you’ve got kids, throw in some coloring books and crayons. Make sure you’ve got a two-week supply of regular medicines on hand, too, because you won’t feel like making a drug-store run. And stash some canned soup and other comfort foods in the pantry.

Know who’s going to pick your kids up if school closes. Talk to your employer about contingency plans, including working from home on time-sensitive projects, so that you can stay home until you’re well.

The first line of defense against a virus is a vaccination. So get vaccinated. There is absolutely enough seasonal flu vaccine available to get vaccinated. Even if you get the flu anyway (and some people do, especially toward the end of the season), the vaccination will help make sure it’s a mild case. If you work with children or the elderly, get vaccinated. If you’re in a high-risk group, get vaccinated. If you live or work around people who are in the high-risk group, get vaccinated.

It’s what epidemiologists call the “herd immunity” that provides the most protection. By vaccinating as many people as possible—the “herd”—the odds of an unvaccinated person being exposed are decreased, and we all stay healthier.