Ever wonder how doctors and nurses prevent flu? After all, they are surrounded by people with high fevers and the flu, coughing at them in small exam rooms.
The answers may surprise you–and mainly because some of the most important preventative steps are so simple!
1. Wash Your Hands (or use hand sanitizer)
This is the number one thing doctors say they do to prevent flu.
“I wash my hands before and after every patient I see,” says Dr. Michael Freedman of Evolve Medical. “In fact, I wash or sanitize pretty much every time I touch someone or something other than my personal items.”
Use warm water and soap and scrub for at least 20 seconds. Nancy Hughes, MS, RN, director of the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health in Silver Spring, Md says, “I use a paper towel to dry my hands and to turn off the faucet, especially in public bathrooms.”
2. Keep Hands Away from Face
No matter how clean you think your hands may be, keep them away from your face–particularly your nose, mouth and eyes. People constantly rub their eyes, their nose or touch their mouth.
Doctors and nurses swear that keeping their hands away from their face is one of the most critical ways to avoid getting infected.
Things we do every day and are practically subconscious are also big problems.“Computer keyboards, telephones, doorknobs, pens that are given to you when you sign for a credit card purchase or in a doctor’s office — all of these are surfaces that have great potential for harboring germs,” says Neil Schachter, MD, professor of medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City and author of The Good Doctor’s Guide to Colds and Flu.
Another insider tip: Be careful with lip balm. Use lip balm in a tube during flu season as opposed to something that you use your finger to apply to your lips.
3. Get The Flu Shot
The flu shot won’t prevent flu…but it will hopefully prevent you from dying (or getting hospitalized) from the flu.
This year’s flu shot is, unfortunately, not particularly good. But even with that said, it’s better than nothing! According to current estimates from the CDC, this year’s shot is about 30 % effective against this year’s strain of the flu.
Many people don’t get the flu shot because they feel they have gotten the flu from it in years past.
But the flu shot can not–never, ever–give you the flu. Why? Because the flu shot contains an inactivated vaccine made of killed virus. Because the viruses in this vaccine are killed (inactivated), the shot simply can’t cause you to get the flu.
People CAN develop other symptoms, though, that make them think the flu shot made them sick. According to the Mayo Clinic, these are the reasons people think the flu made them sick:
- Reaction to the vaccine.
Some people experience muscle aches and a fever for a day or two after receiving a flu shot. This may be a side effect of your body’s production of protective antibodies.
- The two-week window.
It takes about two weeks for the flu shot to take full effect. If you’re exposed to the influenza virus shortly before or during that time period, you might catch the flu.
- Mismatched flu viruses.
In some years, the influenza viruses used for the vaccine don’t match the viruses circulating during the flu season. If this occurs, your flu shot will be less effective, but may still offer some protection.
- Other illnesses.
Many other diseases, such as the common cold, also produce flu-like symptoms. So you may think you have the flu when you actually don’t.
While you can get the flu shot and have it still not entirely prevent flu, the odds of having serious complications like pneumonia go down when you have the shot.
4. Live Healthy
Practice good healthy habits. Get plenty of sleep, exercise regularly, drink plenty of fluids, eat a nutritious diet and manage your stress.There is no better way to prevent flu–or to prevent other illness–other than living a healthy life rich in nutritious food and exercise.
5. To Prevent Flu, Avoid People Coughing and Crowds
Sneezing and coughing is one of the quickest ways to spread a virus. Both a sneeze and a cough are designed to get rid of whatever is bothering your body. Unfortunately, getting rid of germs in such a violent method means spreading germs in a rather large spray of saliva, mucus, irritants and viruses.
If you see someone coughing and sneezing, if it’s possible, move away.
A cough can shoot out 3,000 droplets per cough–at 50 mph.
Sneezes are even worse! A sneeze expels up to 100,000 droplets of mucus, virus and junk at up to 100 mph!
6. Natural Ways to Stay Healthy
Although no natural remedy has been proven to be prevent flu specifically, a number of natural or complementary approaches have been shown to help with other viruses that causes colds.
“I swear by them,” says Dr. Freedman of Evolve Medical. “The research is actually very clear.”
In fact, a sweeping review of the medical research, conducted by the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (a respected medical source), found that Zinc lozenges with 13mg of Zinc, taken every 3-4 hours, beginning on the first day of symptoms, shortened the viral illness an average of one day or more and sharply reduced the severity of the symptoms.
Nose and Sinus Rinses
A lot of people are terrified of the Neti-Pot, which some describe as “water-boarding”. Others have no problem using it. There is an alternative to Yeti-Pot called Neil-Med, which is a squirt bottle method. Using the squirt bottle takes away the passive dribble of water and just shoots it up and out.
But be careful, experts say tap water isn’t safe for nasal rinses! It has to be filtered water.
According to the NIH, other approaches such as Vitamin C, Echinacea, garlic and American Ginseng have shown conflicting, mostly negative (potentially harmful) results.
- 5-20% of the population gets the flu each year, on average
- People are contagious from the day BEFORE symptoms start
- People are contagious for 5-10 days AFTER the illness starts (days after they feel better and return to work or school.)
If you or someone in your family has sudden onset of high fever, whole body aches, chills and feels generally awful, see your provider right away. At Evolve, we can administer a rapid Flu Test to get an answer in 10 minutes. We recognize that the only anti-viral treatment available must be started within 2 days of symptom onset.
For more information, visit the Maryland Department of Health’s Flu Watch page or Anne Arundel Health Department of Health’s Flu Tips page.
If you have been experiencing fever, headache, dry cough or any of the above symptoms, please see your doctor immediately–remember that flu must be treated in the first 48 hours!