by Mary Rains
Mille Lacs Health System
Getting the flu vaccine is one of the two biggest ways to avoid getting the flu (the other is washing your hands.) If you haven’t gotten the flu shot yet, it’s not too late. But flu is not the only virus or infection that can make you miserable and use up your vacation days on the couch this winter. An “influenza-like illness” can be difficult to deal with, too.
Germs in general spread from person to person by way of coughing, sneezing or simply talking. That's because droplets from an infected person get into the air and are inhaled by people nearby. Anyone within three feet can easily be infected. Flu germs also are spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs, and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth. Flu germs can live for hours on surfaces like doorknobs, desks and tables.
Don’t rub your eyes or touch your nose or mouth. Much research has been done regarding how often we touch common surfaces (three times an hour) and then how often we touch parts of our face (three times that much).
Touching our face is so common, we don’t even think about it. So the best way to make sure we’re not planting germs in our mucous membranes is to wash hands frequently. Good old soap and water, friction, and trying not to turn off the (dirty) faucet with your (clean) hands is the best bet (if you use a paper towel to dry your hands, turn off the faucet with that, and then dispose it.) If you’re not able to wash frequently, you can goop your hands with an alcohol-based antibacterial foam or gel. Also, wash your hands: after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; after using the bathroom; after being in contact with someone who is ill; after touching handrails, doorknobs, or other things handled by many people; before and after eating or drinking; and before handling food.
Finally, keep your distance from someone who has flu or cold symptoms. Don’t be afraid to ask that sick people not visit you, no matter how much you want to see one another. Remember that you may be able to fight the bug you’re about to get, but someone in your family might not be so strong.