How can you stop the flu?

Airborne diseases like influenza spread so easily from person to person that it’s often difficult to tell how an individual patient got sick. So what can you do to stop the flu?

Wash your hands!

Wash your hands with soap and water for 15–20 seconds. (That’s about the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.) If you don’t have access to a sink, alcohol-based hand wipes or gel sanitizers containing 60% ethyl alcohol also work. If you’re using gel, rub your hands until they’re dry.

Wash your hands (activity)

Cough or sneeze in your sleeve

Sneezing is your body’s way of getting rid of nasty things in your nose and throat. It’s also the way that air- and droplet-borne microbes spread. During a sneeze, air from your mouth can travel up to 100 mph, spewing 5,000 or more water droplets about five feet away. Germs also spread when people touch droplets from another person on a surface and then touch their own eyes, mouth, or nose before washing up. Some viruses and bacteria can live two hours or longer on surfaces. A single cough or sneeze can infect many people.

Watch this video: Why don’t we do it in our sleeves?

Stay home if you’re sick

If you catch the flu, you may be sick for a week or longer. Stay home and avoid contact with others, except when seeking medical care. You’re considered contagious from the day before you developed symptoms up to 7 days after you got sick (or 24 hours after your symptoms pass, whichever is longer).

Get a flu shot

It won’t protect you against 2009 H1N1 flu, at least right now, but even regular old seasonal influenza infects 10–20% of the US population every year, and kills 36,000 of us.

Why do you have to get a shot every year? The influenza virus keeps shifting. Each season, researchers evaluate the vaccine and recommend changes to better protect against the most common and potent strains. Planning for the next vaccine begins nine months before the flu season begins, often relying on incomplete information and educated guesswork. (Still, flu shots work: they’re 70–80% effective in preventing flu in healthy adults.

Handling a possible flu epidemic: you make the call