Chapter 1 | How to Prevent Getting and Spreading Influenza - Ascension Wisconsin

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How to Prevent Getting and Spreading Influenza

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Good Habits to Help Prevent Influenza

Flu may spread from person to person when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or touches things others use. Here are some simple things you can do to help protect yourself and your family from the flu:

Cleaning Your Hands

Cleaning your hands is the single best step that can be taken to prevent the spread of influenza. Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. If water is unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand gel (like Purell® or a store-brand).

  • Wash your hands before and after using the bathroom.
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth without first washing your hands. Influenza spreads when a person touches items covered with virus and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are ill. Maintain at least 6 feet of distance.
  • Disinfect items people frequently touch. This includes door knobs, toys, keyboards, faucets, remote controls, phones, and switches. Use a household disinfectant or chlorine bleach mixture.
  • Get an influenza vaccination. An annual influenza vaccination can reduce your risk of getting seasonal influenza during a pandemic.
  • Practice good health habits. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your
  • stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat properly.
  • Avoid smoking. Smoking may increase the risk of serious complications from the flu.
  • If you travel to areas with bird flu, avoid live bird markets, farms or direct contact with birds or their secretions.

Preventing the Spread of Influenza 

While some people with influenza do require hospitalization, most people with influenza are able to remain at home during the course of their illness. These ill persons can be cared for by family members or others who live in the household. The following information is intended to help families and caregivers recognize the symptoms of influenza and care for ill persons in the home, both during a typical influenza season and during an influenza pandemic.

Because influenza can spread easily from person to person, anyone living in or visiting a home where someone has influenza can become infected. For this reason, it is important to take steps to prevent the spread of influenza to others in the home.

At the outset of an influenza pandemic, a vaccine for the pandemic influenza virus may not be available for several months. However, it’s still a good idea to get a seasonal influenza vaccine to protect from seasonal flu.

Know the Symptoms of Influenza

  • Sudden onset of illness
  • Fever higher than 100.4º F (38º)
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Stuff nose
  • Muscle aches
  • Feeling of weakness and/or exhaustion
  • Diarrhea, vomiting, and/or abdominal pain (more commonly in children)

What Can Caregivers Do?

If you need to care for someone with influenza in your home, the following are some useful tips:

  • Physically separate influenza patients from other people as much as possible. When practical, the ill person should stay in a separate room where others do not enter. Other people living in the home should limit contact with the ill person as much as possible.
  • Designate one person in the household as the main caregiver for the ill person.
  • Ideally, this caregiver should be healthy and not have medical conditions that would put him or her at risk for severe influenza disease.
  • Watch for influenza symptoms in other household members.
  • Contact your health care provider if you have questions about caring for the ill person. However, during a severe influenza pandemic it may be difficult to contact your usual healthcare provider. The State of Wisconsin’s pandemic flu website, Pandemic.Wisconsin.Gov, will provide information on how to get medical advice. If special telephone hotlines are used, these numbers will be on the website and announced through the media. The website will also list contact information for the local health department in your area.
  • Wear masks. Masks may be useful in decreasing spread of influenza when worn by the patient and/or caregiver during close contact (within 3 feet). If masks are worn, to be useful they must be worn at all times when in close contact with the patient. Wearing of gloves and gowns is not recommended for household members providing care in the home.

Medical conditions that are considered “high risk” include the following:

  • Pregnancy
  • Diabetes
  • Heart problems
  • Kidney disease
  • Disease or treatment that suppresses the immune system
  • Chronic lung disease, including asthma, emphysema, cystic fibrosis, chronic bronchitis, bronchiectasis, and tuberculosis (TB)
  • Age over 65

What Can Everyone in the Household Do? 

There are many things that can be done around the home to prevent spreading influenza from one family member to another:

  • Wash hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand cleanser (like Purell® or a store-brand) after each contact with an influenza patient or with objects in the area where the patient is located. Wash hands before and after using the bathroom.

Clean hands are the single best preventive measure for everyone in the household. Wash long enough to sing the Happy Birthday song twice. These 15 to 20 seconds of washing are enough to kill germs.

  • Don’t touch your eyes, your nose, or your mouth without first carefully washing your hands.
  • Wash soiled dishes and eating utensils either in a dishwasher or by hand with warm water and soap. It is not necessary to separate eating utensils used by a patient with influenza.
  • Laundry can be washed in a standard washing machine with warm or cold water and detergent. It is not necessary to separate soiled linen and laundry used by a patient with influenza from other household laundry. In order to avoid contamination, do not “hug” the laundry. Wash hands with soap and water after handling soiled laundry.
  • Place tissues used by the ill patient in a bag and throw them away with other household waste. Consider placing a bag at the bedside for this purpose.
  • Disinfect items people touch like door knobs, toys, keyboards, faucets, remote controls, phones, and light switches. Use a household disinfectant or chlorine bleach mixture

Prevent the Spread of Illness in the Community

It is important to take precautions to protect others outside the home from getting sick. Some useful ways to prevent spreading illness in the community include:

  • Stay at home if you are sick. Ill persons should not leave the home until they have
  • recovered because they can spread the infection to others. In a typical influenza season, persons with influenza should avoid contact with others for about 5 days after the onset of symptoms. During an influenza pandemic, public health authorities will provide information on how long persons with influenza should remain at home.
  • If the ill person must leave home (such as for medical care), he or she should wear a surgical or procedure mask, if available, and should be sure to take the following steps.
  • During an influenza pandemic, only people who are essential for patient care or support should enter a home where someone is ill with pandemic influenza unless they have already had influenza.
  • If other persons must enter the home, they should avoid close contact with the patient and use the infection control precautions recommended above.
  • Keep your distance from others by avoiding crowds, limiting your travel, and working from home when possible.

Wisconsin Department of Health Services
Division of Public Health