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(HYANNIS) – It is one thing to stay home from work when you have the flu, so that you don’t infect your co-workers. But what about your family members or house mates? How can they avoid the nasty germs?
There are two main paths to contagion, according to Mary Slater, RN, interim director of infectious disease at Cape Cod Healthcare.
“One is by actual droplet, when the sick person coughs or sneezes on you and you get the flu virus directly,” she said. “The other way is from surfaces that you touch.”
The flu virus can survive on a hard surface and infect someone else for two to eight hours, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“In the hospital, the high touch areas are the bed rails, the bedside table and telephone, the TV remote, the nurse call button; all those kinds of things,” Slater said. “In the home, the places where germs would most likely be found are the things that people touch constantly: doorknobs, faucet handles, counter tops, computer keyboards, toys and phones.
“If you touch those areas with your hands and then put your hands to your face, you can get those germs into your mucous membranes and into your body. Washing your hands more frequently during flu season is a really good idea. If you’re wiping down surfaces with a disinfectant, that’s going to kill the germs on the surfaces.”
The pubic should be well aware of the risk of flu contagion, Slater said. The CDC this week raised the risk level for influenza-like illness from low to high, she said.
Flu patients are usually contagious for about seven days from the time they start having symptoms, she said. “Doing things to minimize their spreading the germs during that seven day period is the important part.”
Keep Your Distance
To the degree that you can, keep some distance from your sick relative or roommate, she said, but that’s not always easy.
To avoid direct contagion, the sick person should cough or sneeze into a tissue and throw it away. For those moments when a tissue isn’t within reach, cough into your elbow.
Most homes don’t have a quarantine zone, and that’s OK, said Slater.
“You don’t need to use separate bedrooms or bathrooms,” she said. “You don’t have to isolate yourself from the person, but you don’t want sleep in the same bed with them when they’re at their sickest point.”
While germs can survive far longer on hard surfaces than cloth, it’s not a bad idea to wash a flu patient’s sheets and towels every few days, using the hot water setting, she said.
To avoid the flu, in general, here are some tips from the federal Centers for Disease Control:
-Avoid being face to face with the sick person. If possible, it is best to spend the least amount of time in close contact with a sick person.
-When holding sick children, place their chin on your shoulder so they will not cough in your face.
-Wash your hands often and right way.
-If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
-Slater further recommends that you wash your hands after handling a sick person’s tissues or laundry.
The very best way to help avoid the flu, she said, is to get a flu shot.
“It takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to produce enough antibodies to fight against the flu,” she said. “If you wait until your child comes home with the flu, it’s too late to get a flu shot that will protect you.”
As for people who say they don’t need the flu shot because they never get sick, Slater has this warning:
“Every year the flu virus is different and some of them are far more virulent, more harmful to us than other years. If you’ve never gotten the flu before, you’ve been lucky. But that doesn’t mean that’s going to continue.”