How can you avoid getting the flu?

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Get Vaccinated for the Flu As Soon As Possible.

"Prevention is the best medicine" and vaccinations are the best method for prevention of influenza.

UPDATE For the 2011-2012 flu season:

For the 2011-2012 flu season in the US, as in the 2010-2011 season, there is only a need to have one vaccination for the seasonal flu and for swine flu H1N1 since they are combined into one vaccine now.

Avoid contact with others who may be sick

Stay away from people who have the symptoms or a diagnosis of the flu virus. Avoid large crowds and stay at least two meters (six feet) from anyone with symptoms or who is sneezing or coughing in public.

The flu is very contagious. Close skin-to-skin contact of any type can pass the virus from one person to the next. Such contacts as kissing, hugging, holding or shaking hands, etc. are the most common ways the virus is spread. You can also get it through more indirect contact like sharing drinks, touching doorknobs, light switches, ink pens, handling money, and touching other places and items that infected people have (or may have) touched recently (how recently is under some debate; see the Related Question below about how long flu viruses live on surfaces. Some reports say 2 hours, some say 2 days or more).

How it is spread person to person

The flu is spread in much the same way as common cold viruses. Similar precautions should be used.

Don't give it to others if you are sick

Avoid giving it to others; exercise responsible habits like staying out of crowds and public places when you are ill. You should really stay home if you are sick and for seven days afterward or for 24 hours after symptoms are gone, whichever is longer*. Only go out for necessary medical appointments prior to that.

*The CDC has revised this guideline to say that after 24 hours of no fever without fever reducers it is OK to be out in public again. A report from the Dept. of Homeland Security suggests the original guidelines were better. If you will be around people who are at higher risk such as pregnant women, children (especially babies under 6 months old), the immuno-compromised, etc., then it may be better to take the safest approach and wait for which ever is longer: seven days after first symptoms; or 24 hours after the fever stops.

Cover your coughs and sneezes

If you have a runny nose, always use a tissue to wipe your nose. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Do not reuse tissues. Throw the tissue away in a trash container after one use. If you can not get a tissue in time, then cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow held close to your face to fully cover your nose and mouth and prevent the spread of respiratory droplets. Wash your hands as soon as you dispose of used tissues. UK motto: "Catch It, Bin It, Kill It!"

Keep your hands clean with frequent hand washing

One of the easiest, most effective, and very simple ways to prevent the spread of the flu is to wash your hands regularly and keep them away from your face, especially your mouth, eyes, and nose. As a general rule of thumb, it is always safest to wash your hands immediately after you shake a person's hand, deal with money, before and after you prepare food, and when you come inside from being outside.

Don't touch public things

Avoid touching surfaces and items in public use during the flu season, and wash your hands often if you cannot totally avoid these places. Carry hand sanitizer with you and use it often after touching people or things. Use as directed on the label (rub hands until totally dry). A sanitizer that is 60% alcohol content is most effective. Viruses can "live" on inanimate surfaces for around 2 hours (or up to 48 hours in some environmental conditions, (see Related Questions below) after you or someone else touches the surface with the virus on your hands. The virus can also be left on the commonly touched areas if you allow respiratory droplets to get on the surfaces with uncovered coughs or sneezes. Make a habit of never touching your face, nose, mouth or eyes, or those of others, without properly washing hands or using a hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol, both before and after touching public things.

Proper hand-washing technique:

Use warm water and regular soap; briskly wash and rub hands, under nails, and between fingers with suds for a minimum of 20-30 seconds; rinse and dry on a clean towel. To know if you have washed your hands long enough for the virus to be removed from your hands, sing two verses of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" or sing "Happy Birthday" quickly twice before you stop washing them with the soap suds. Friction is required to physically rub the virus particles off your hands.


Face Masks

Unless you wear a respirator grade face mask (called N95 type masks) or other specially made masks that can filter the sub-microscopic viruses to prevent your breathing them in, wearing any kind of surgical face mask, or other mask not designed as such (to fit correctly and filter correctly), will not help you avoid getting the flu since the virus is small enough to pass right through the masks or can be carried around the sides of the mask. Also, these masks need to be medically fitted and tested to be properly sealed on your face, or they will not stop you from inhaling the virus. Respirator masks are not recommended for men with beards or for children, since they cannot be made to fit appropriately in these people.

Those who have allergies, asthma, lung disease or other trouble breathing often cannot use N95 type masks, since it can be difficult for them to breathe well with one on.

Plain surgical masks could keep you from giving the flu to someone else, if you have to go in public when you have the virus, but they will not prevent your getting it from an infected person (except if you are close enough to them when they sneeze directly or cough directly on you). It can be recommended for caregivers and parents caring for sick children, or others who are in very close contact with the ill, to use a mask to keep the respiratory droplets from hitting their faces directly. For most situations and for surgical use, surgical masks are designed to keep the respiratory droplets from the wearer contained (like covering your mouth with a tissue does). Respirators and masks should be thrown away after a single use, like a tissue, and you should always wash your hands after touching them.

Prophylactic use of anti-viral medications

In some cases, a health care professional may prescribe anti-viral medicines, like Tamiflu, for others in the same household with a person diagnosed with the flu virus, to be used as a prophylactic (preventive) medication to keep them from also getting ill from the virus. There are certain groups where this can be beneficial, especially if these people cannot be isolated from the ill person. Ask your health care professional if this is necessary for those who will be in regular contact or in close proximity to an ill person. Prophylactic use is not appropriate, however, in all situations; your health care professional will weigh the risks versus the benefits and make the best decision for your care.


Keep your immune system healthy

Make sure your immune system is in tip-top shape. Always get a full night's sleep. This will help you fight off any illnesses, and if you do happen to catch swine flu, will possibly help you recover faster. You can also take vitamins, especially vitamin C and others that boost your immune system, or drink citrus juice for the vitamin C that it contains. Vitamin C is thought to "boost" the immune system. Maintain good nutrition and vitamin intake, eat healthier foods such as fruits and vegetables, and laugh and exercise to help relieve stress.

Avoid stress

Avoid stress as much as possible; it can lower your resistance to any disease. Use breathing techniques to calm yourself in stressful situations. Worrying can weaken your immune system and actually make you more prone to illness.

Laugh

Studies have actually made a connection between laughter and a healthy immune system. Whenever you can, lighten up and let loose a belly laugh. Even if something doesn't seem funny at first, make yourself start laughing. And if others are around, your laughing will be very contagious and, before you know it, you can have tears streaming and be laughing uncontrollably. This has very beneficial results for your health, especially your immune system.

Mosquitoes?

Usually mosquitoes do not carry the influenza viruses. They do carry some other viruses, such as West Nile Virus and St. Louis Encephalitis. These viruses are very deadly, and caution should always be taken when mosquitoes are present.

Wear long sleeves and use DEET repellent. Wear light-colored clothing, since mosquitoes are attracted to dark colors. And keep standing water, in which they lay eggs, emptied. Try to attract hummingbirds (they eat thousands in one day), bats (equally as good in hunting them), frogs and toads and dragonflies to your yard and garden. Purple Martin birds are also good for mosquito control, but they require more maintenance and very tall and specific houses to attract them.


See the Related Questions below for more information
on steps you can take to avoid the swine flu virus.

The flu can be avoided in the winter by getting a flu shot early before the cold or winter season. One can also make sure that hands are always clean before eating or rubbing the face.
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