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Stopping the Spread

woman-699008_960_720With flu season in full force, halting the spread of germs is a key concern. Getting the flu is no picnic, but when you’re young and healthy it can often feel like it isn’t a big deal. While being sick in bed for a few days might not have a huge impact on your life, it’s important that you think about other people when it comes to playing your role in halting the spread of illness.

  • Will you be visiting with any elderly family members over the holidays?
  • Does someone you work with have an infant at home?
  • Does someone at your school have a compromised immune system?
  • Does your friend’s mom or dad work in health care?
  • Is one of your teachers or coworkers pregnant?

These are the people who you are protecting by practicing good hygiene habits and staying home if you do get sick. When you get sick, it may just be three or four days in bed, but when someone else picks up your flu who has a compromised immune system, their health is put at serious risk. If someone who works in health care picks up your flu, they might pass it on to vulnerable patients before they realize their symptoms. A simple flu could lead to pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections or other complications that could result in hospitalization and even death when it is picked up by the wrong person. Even an otherwise healthy person can develop complications from the flu under the wrong set of circumstances.

Besides age and pregnancy, there are several medical conditions that put people at an elevated risk of flu-related complications:

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  • Neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Heart disease
  • Blood disorders
  • Kidney or liver disorders
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Cancer, lupus, HIV or AIDS and other diseases that cause a weakened immune system

Symptoms

Symptoms of influenza include aches and pains, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, coughing, fever, fatigue and sometimes nausea.

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How does the flu spread?

When someone who is sick coughs or sneezes, droplets are expelled that can spread up to 6 feet away. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of nearby people, or they can land on a surface that others might touch. For example, someone might cough into their hand and then touch a doorknob. If you touch that doorknob and then touch your mouth or eyes, you could pick up their virus. This is why frequent hand washing is important during flu season. It is also important to stay home if you are sick and, if you must be around others, be mindful that you do not cough or sneeze into the open and do not touch things like doorknobs, drawers and handles if you have coughed or sneezed into your hand.

Wash your hands!

Washing your hands not only prevents you from getting sick, but it also reduces the risk of infecting others. If you don’t wash your hands properly before coming into contact with others, you can infect them with the germs on your hands. Other people can also get sick from the germs unwashed hands leave on shared objects like doorknobs, keyboards, and other equipment in the home or workplace.

When should you wash your hands?sink-400276_960_720

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
  • After handling pet food or pet treats
  • After touching garbage
  • At regular intervals throughout the day

How should you wash your hands?

  • Remove any hand or arm jewellery you may be wearing.
  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap. Why use running water? Hands could become re-contaminated if placed in a basin of standing water that has been contaminated through previous use. The temperature of the water does not appear to affect microbe removal; however, warmer water may cause more skin irritation and is more environmentally costly.
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. Using soap to wash hands is more effective than using water alone. Lathering and scrubbing hands creates friction, which helps lift dirt, grease, and microbes from skin. Microbes are present on all surfaces of the hand, often in particularly high concentration under the nails, so the entire hand should be scrubbed.
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of microbes on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs and are not as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy. They can also dry out your skin, so only use them if you do not have access to soap and water.

Get your flu shot!

Of course, getting your flu shot gives you a major advantage when it comes to avoiding the flu. It’s not a guarantee that you will not get sick, but it greatly reduces the likelihood. It’s also important to remember that you may end up picking up the bug and carrying it without ever presenting symptoms, which puts those vulnerable people we talked about earlier in danger. Protect them and protect yourself by getting inoculated. You can find a local flu clinic here.