September 15, 2021
Both influenza and COVID-19 are highly contagious viruses. Seasonal flu and the coronavirus can result in serious illness, hospitalizations, and deaths. The potential for a "twindemic" of COVID-19 and influenza during the 2021-22 flu season is especially concerning. You can help keep yourself and others safe by getting a flu shot and a COVID-19 vaccine if eligible, and following the guidelines below.
How Does Flu Spread?
The first step in understanding how to avoid spreading the flu, is knowing how it spreads. Most often, flu is spread from one person to another through droplets released during a cough or sneeze. Germs are also shared on surfaces like doorknobs and desks where the flu virus can live for up to 48 hours.
Easy Steps to Avoid Catching or Spreading the Flu
Get a Flu Shot
Getting immunized is the single best way to protect yourself and prevent the spread of flu. Everyone six months of age and older, with very few exceptions, should get the flu vaccine each year.
Some people who get vaccinated may still get sick. However, studies show that people who got a flu shot and get sick, have less severe symptoms and a shorter length of the illness—sometimes as little as 3-4 days—compared to 1-2 weeks.
Wash Your Hands…A Lot
While getting a flu shot is the best way to prevent catching the flu in the first place, washing your hands is the best way to prevent spreading the virus. Wash or disinfect your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer any time you touch something a sick person could have touched—things like books keyboards, phones, remote controls, tables, railings and countertops. Avoid touching your face.
Handwashing technique matters. Here’s what the CDC recommends:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the "Happy Birthday" song from beginning to end twice.
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
While handwashing is key to stopping the spread of flu after touching common surfaces, it is also helpful to disinfect those surfaces with a cleaning product designed to kill the influenza virus. Check the label. And remember, paper towels and disinfectant wipes are preferable over sponges and dishcloths which often just spread germs around. Wash bedding on a high temperature setting.
Cover Your Cough
While covering your cough or sneeze may seem like common courtesy and common sense, making sure to practice this all the time really does protect other people from your germs.
Since viruses cling to your bare hands, when you cough or sneeze, cover your face with your entire elbow, a technique many people have taught their children for years.
Know the Symptoms of Flu and Stay Home
It’s important to know the symptoms of the flu and stay home if you experience them. You could have the flu if you experience a sudden onset of cough, fever, chills, body aches, sore throat, headache, runny/stuff nose, and fatigue.
The CDC recommends avoiding the public until you have not had a fever for 24 hours. People with the flu can spread it to others who are up to 6 feet away.
Managing Flu with Your Healthcare Provider
When calling your doctor’s office about flu-like symptoms, be sure to mention if you have been in contact with someone who tested positive for flu.
There are flu treatments like Tamiflu or Xofluza that can decrease the length of the illness. These treatments must begin within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms to work.
If you do have the flu, you need to rest, drink lots of fluids, and wash your hands frequently.