When a family member or housemate comes down with the flu, your first thought might be, "At least it isn't me." But your second thought is probably, "How do I avoid it being me?”
While we want to help our loved ones when they are sick and be there for them, we also need to take care of our own health. After all, it wouldn't do for everyone in the home to come down with the flu.
But how can you avoid catching the flu from someone with whom you reside? Following are some best practices that you and others in your home can follow to avoid catching or passing the flu.
One of the simplest and most effective ways to avoid catching the flu (or other illnesses) is simply to wash your hands regularly throughout the day.
If there is soap, use it. If there isn't, just rinse with water. Do not just run your hands under the water for half a second. Wash your hands for at least 10 seconds, longer if you are not in a huge rush.
Think about the postings telling employees how long to wash their hands when working in restaurants. That should give you an idea of how long to wash if you want to do your absolute best to prevent getting the flu.
This method will be most effective if everyone in the home is following it. But if you cannot get others to wash your hands, you can at least do it yourself.
Len Horovitz, MD, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, says, “On average, people touch their face two or three times a minute — but you should never touch your face with unwashed hands. Germs can get into your system through your eyes, nose, or mouth when you touch your face.”
It can take some conscious thought to make sure that you are keeping your hands away from your face, so just try and have it in mind throughout the day.
It is pretty hard to persuade other people not to sneeze on you (“Please don’t sneeze on me” sure sounds awkward, doesn’t it?). But you can try to stay out of proximity of sneezing and coughing if others are not polite enough to turn away from you when doing it.
If you end up getting the flu and want to avoid passing it to others in or out of the home, make sure you sneeze or cough into your armpit. Don’t cough or sneeze into your hands if possible, or you will have to wash them straight away.
While you don’t want to be rude, it is entirely sensible not to get too close in contact with someone with the flu. Horovitz says, “You can be exposed to germs when kissing someone on the cheek. An air kiss is safer.” Basically, anything that comes out of someone’s mouth or nose is something you don’t want to be touching if they are ill.
Along with washing hands, it is important to wipe down surfaces which are frequently touched, i.e. countertops, keyboards, mice, remotes, etc. The flu virus can survive on such surfaces for as long as a day if steps are not taken to disinfect them.
Preferably, the person who has the flu should be taking care of this job, but if they are unwilling or unable to, you can take care of it for them, and in so doing, protect everybody else in the house from catching the flu.
While you are at it, it is a good idea not to wear the same clothes for more than a day in a row, unless you throw in them in the laundry first. The same goes for the person with the flu as well as other housemates or family members.
Something else you can do to reduce your chances of catching the flu is simply to stay as healthy as possible in general by following the right lifestyle habits.
The New York Times quotes Dr. Susan Rehm, vice chairwoman of the infectious disease department at the Cleveland Clinic as saying, “Potentially that [eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep] will help me withstand the exposure, or at least put me in a better place to get through it.”
The last thing you want to do when the flu is in your home is to shut yourself in with it without any fresh air.
Weather permitting, open up some windows around the house, and spend time outdoors if you can. Encourage the sick person in your home to get some fresh air as well.
Eating a healthy diet, exercising, and getting your nightly rest can help to keep your body functioning at its best. One other thing you can do is to take a supplement to support your immune system such as a healthy probiotic. You also should make sure that you're getting your daily vitamins and minerals, especially zinc.
There is no foolproof way to make sure that you will not catch the flu. Even getting a flu shot sometimes is not enough to prevent you from getting sick during flu season.
But if somebody in your home gets the flu, it is not a guarantee that you or other members of your household will come down with it.
By following the recommendations in the list above, you make it less likely that you will contract the flu.
If the person with the flu and others in your home also follow these suggestions, it should provide additional protection for every member of your household. With a bit of luck, hopefully nobody else in your home will get sick this flu season.
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