Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Outsmarting the Flu

What is the flu?

Influenza, or “the flu,” is a respiratory illness caused by a virus.  Typical symptoms include: fever, muscle aches, headache, and respiratory symptoms such as cough, sore throat and other “cold” symptoms.

Most people recover in 1-2 weeks, but for the elderly or chronically ill, serious medical complications can develop.  

The flu virus can spread easily in communal residential settings like long-term care facilities where people live close together.

How is IT spread?

Droplets of respiratory secretions may spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks.  Droplets are expelled and are deposited in the nose and/or throat of susceptible people in a range of 3 feet.

Droplet spread can be stopped if the infected person wears a mask, covers their mouth or maintains distance from others.  Airborne transmission occurs when the infected person coughs and a very fine spray is expelled into the air.  This spray is fine enough to be inhaled by others.

Direct spread occurs person to person, such as when shaking hands.  Indirect spread happens when a susceptible person touches an object like a handle after an infected person has touched it.  After the virus is on the susceptible person’s hand, touching his nose introduces the virus to the respiratory tract.


The single most effective thing you can do to prevent the flu is to wash your hands often.  Use a pump soap (wet bar soaps harbor viruses and bacteria), warm water, and a clean towel.  An alternative to washing hands is to apply an alcohol hand gel.

Vaccination is the best way to reduce likelihood of getting the flu.  Older people and those with chronic diseases should be vaccinated in the fall, beginning in October. 

  • Keep tissues easily accessible and dispose of them immediately after use.
  • Ask family and friends to refrain from visiting if they are ill, coughing or sneezing.
  • Ask people with a cough to stay at least 3 feet from others.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes; do not cover with hands unless they can be washed immediately. Sneeze into the crook of the arm if necessary.
  • Sanitize hands frequently; make alcohol gel readily available to family and guests. 
  • Dry hands with paper towels and consider using disposable plates and utensils.
  • Keep countertops, light switches, refrigerator handles, phones, remote controls, door knobs and other frequently used surfaces clean at all times.
  • Wear gloves if hand contact with respiratory secretions is possible.
  • Caregivers should wear clothing that can be placed in the laundry immediately if clothing is likely to be coughed or sneezed on.
  • Be considerate of others by avoiding shopping and other activities where you could spread the flu to others.
  • Isolate the person with flu.  They should not leave home or have visitors and should have their own room. 
  • If in a room or car with someone else, the person with flu should wear a mask.


Consult a doctor if respiratory symptoms develop. He or she can make recommendations and may prescribe medication if needed.  It is essential that infected people drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and to keep secretions thin.