Everyday Preventive Actions That Can Help Fight Germs, Like Flu
A three-step approach to fighting the flu
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends a three–step approach to fighting influenza (flu).
The first and most important step is to get a flu vaccination each year. But if you get the flu, there are prescription antiviral drugs that can treat your illness. Second, early treatment is especially important for the elderly, the very young, people with certain chronic health conditions, and pregnant women. Finally, everyday preventive actions may slow the spread of germs that cause respiratory (nose, throat, and lungs) illnesses like flu.
What is the flu?
The flu (influenza) is an infection of the nose, throat, and lungs caused by influenza viruses. There are many different influenza viruses that are constantly changing. They cause illness, hospital stays, and deaths in the United States each year.
Influenza viruses are named for their type and subtype. Influenza viruses that commonly make people sick are influenza A H1N1 viruses, influenza A H3N2 viruses and influenza B viruses. Sometimes a new influenza virus emerges and starts spreading among people.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
Symptoms of flu can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. Some people with the flu will not have a fever.
How does the flu spread?
Flu viruses are thought to spread mainly from person–to–person through coughing, sneezing, or even talking to someone with the flu. Flu viruses also may spread when people touch something with flu virus on it and then touch their mouth, eyes, or nose. Many other viruses spread these ways, too.
People infected with flu may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. That means you may be able to spread the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Young children, those who are severely ill, and those who have severely weakened immune systems may be able to infect others for longer than five to seven days.
How serious is the flu?
Flu illness can vary from mild to severe. While the flu can be serious even in people who are otherwise healthy, it can be especially dangerous for young children and children of any age who have certain long term health conditions, including asthma (even mild or controlled), neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions, chronic lung disease, heart disease, blood disorders, endocrine disorders (such as diabetes), kidney, liver, and metabolic disorders, and weakened immune systems due to disease or medication. Children with these conditions and children who are receiving long–term aspirin therapy can have more severe illness from the flu.
What are everyday preventive actions?
Everyday preventive actions are steps that people can take to help slow the spread of germs that cause respiratory illness, like flu. These include the following personal and community actions:
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. This will block the spread of droplets from your mouth or nose that could contain germs.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol–based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- Limit contact with others as much as possible to help prevent spreading illness.
- Keep surfaces like bedside tables, surfaces in the bathroom, kitchen counters, and toys for children clean by wiping them down with a household disinfectant according to the directions on the product label.
- Throw away tissues and other disposable items used by sick persons in your household in the trash.
- Stay home (or keep your child home) for at least 24 hours after fever is gone except to seek medical care or for other necessities. Fever should be gone without the use of a fever–reducing medicine.
- If an outbreak of flu or another illness occurs, follow public health advice. This may include information about how to increase distance between people and other measures.
These everyday steps are a good way to reduce your chances of getting all sorts of illnesses, but vaccination is always the best way to specifically prevent flu.
Is there medicine to treat the flu?
Antiviral drugs can treat flu illness. They can make people feel better and get better sooner and may prevent serious flu complications, like pneumonia, for example, that can lead to hospitalization and even death.
These drugs are different from antibiotics, but they also need to be prescribed by a doctor. They work best when started during the first two days of illness. It’s very important that antiviral drugs be used early to treat flu in people who are very sick (for example people who are in the hospital) or people who are at greater risk of having serious flu complications. Other people with flu illness may also benefit from taking antiviral drugs. These drugs can be given to children and pregnant women.