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Protecting Yourself From the Flu

Armen Hareyan's picture

Flu Season Protection

While it's still too early to predict the severity of this year's flu season, there are several ways to protect yourself and your family from the flu, said Chris Woods, M.D., M.P.H. assistant professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at Duke University Medical Center.

"The best thing is to follow the advice your mother gave you and wash your hands," Woods said. Practicing basic hygiene like frequent hand washing, covering your mouth and nose when you cough and sneeze, and promptly tossing dirty tissues will prevent spreading infections. Flu season is a good opportunity to teach young children, who are the biggest reservoir for flu, basic hygiene, Woods said.

If you are in one of the high risk groups defined by the CDC, getting a flu shot as early as possible is also important. For more information on the CDC criteria for high risk categories of patients, please see http://www.cdc.gov/flu

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"Getting the vaccine as early as possible in the season assures that one has protection throughout the season, and reduces the chance of being caught off-guard or having to wait in long lines," Woods said.

If you do get the flu, whether you are healthy or in a high-risk group, Woods recommends staying home from work, school and errands. "The number one thing people should do is stay home," he said. "Not exposing yourself to others is the best thing you can do for public health." Staying home until flu symptoms fully resolve will also help, Woods said.

Flu symptoms can be eased with bed rest, drinking water and other fluids, using a humidifier and taking over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin or acetaminophen. Children and adolescents who have the flu should not take aspirin or aspirin-containing products because of the risk of Reye's syndrome, a rare condition that affects the nerves. Woods points out that antibiotics will not help treat the flu because they do not work on viruses. Antibiotics only work against specific infections cause by bacteria.

However, clinicians can prescribe flu antiviral drugs that reduce the duration and severity of the illness, Woods said. "It is important to see your doctor as early as possible because antivirals should be taken within two days of getting sick," Woods said. People in high-risk groups, as defined by the CDC, can especially benefit from antivirals, he said. "You also have to take both the elements of hygiene and avoiding crowds more seriously if you fall into one of the risk groups," Woods said.