Reducing Your Risk of Viral Upper Respiratory Infections (Colds and Influenza)
Wash Your Hands Often
]]>Hand washing]]> is the most neglected, yet most effective, method of disease containment. The primary way of spreading both colds and influenza is person-to-person contact. Wash your hands often, especially when you come in contact with someone who is sick. Even if someone in your house has the flu, you can reduce your risk of getting sick by washing your hands.
Effective ways to prevent respiratory infections include:
- Washing your hands thoroughly (15-20 seconds) with soap and water
- Avoiding hand-to-hand passage of germs and droplet sprays from sneezing and coughing
- Using alcohol-based hand gels when washing is not possible
Wear a Face Mask
If you have to be in close contact with a sick person, wear a face mask or a disposable respirator. Wearing a face mask and washing your hands can help to reduce your risk of getting the flu.
Do Not Share Items
Do not share drinks or personal items.
Keep Your Hands Away From Your Face
Do not bite your nails or put your hands near your eyes, mouth, or nose.
Avoid Crowds During Influenza Season
This may not be a very practical suggestion for everyone. However, if you are at high risk of catching a cold or influenza or are at risk for developing complications from these infections, try to avoid crowded areas or people who are obviously sick during the influenza season.
Get a Flu Vaccine
Each year, the World Health Organization tries to determine which strains of the influenza virus will be most dangerous in the upcoming influenza season. Vaccines are developed for these strains.
Seasonal Flu Vaccine
The seasonal flu vaccine has been associated with fewer hospitalizations and deaths from influenza or ]]>pneumonia]]> among the elderly living in a community.
There are two types of seasonal flu vaccines:
- Flu shot—This is approved for use in people older than six months. The shot is made from an inactivated, killed virus. It is given by injection, usually into the arm.
- Nasal spray flu vaccine—This is approved for healthy people aged 2-49 years who are not pregnant. It is made from live, weakened flu viruses. It is taken by nasal spray.
A possible side effect is a mild "flu-like" reaction, including fever, aches, and fatigue. Up to 5% of people experience these symptoms after getting the seasonal influenza vaccine.
Flu vaccines are available at doctors' offices, hospitals, local public health offices, and at some workplaces, stores, and shopping malls.
Most people can make it through a flu season without the need for antiviral medicines. However, you may want to talk with your doctor about taking antiviral medications to lower your risk of getting the flu if you are exposed to the flu and:
- Are at high risk for complications of the flu
- Are a healthcare worker, public health worker, or first responder
Your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medicine, such as ]]>oseltamivir]]> (Tamiflu) or ]]>zanamivir]]> (Relenza,) to prevent the flu. In the US, some strains of the seasonal influenza virus are resistant to Tamiflu, but it can be used for ]]>pandemic H1N1 flu]]>. There are other antiviral medicines (eg, ]]>amantadine]]>, ]]>rimantadine]]>), but these are used less often and do not work in treating pandemic H1N1 flu.
If you have the flu and live with someone who is at risk for complications (eg, elderly, babies, someone with cancer), that person may need to take antiviral medicines to prevent getting the flu from you. Remember that these medicines are not a substitute for getting vaccinated. Vaccination is still the best way to prevent the flu.
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Last reviewed December 2009 by ]]> David L. Horn, MD, FACP]]>
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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