So you did everything you were supposed to do, but you still came down with the dreaded flu. Aside seeking out remedies to make yourself feel better, it's also important to consider how to avoid getting other people sick if you have the flu. While you might be tempted to go to work anyways, don't let deadlines and an overflowing inbox drive you put others at risk. For the love of all things great and small — stay home. You might think you have it all figured out, and you can safely go into work when you're feeling flu-ish. However, in this case, you actually aren't Wonder Woman.
With the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reporting that you can spread the flu simply by breathing on others, and National Geographic reporting that the flu shot is only 30 percent effective this year, the odds are not in your favor. Additionally, experts are saying that this year has indeed been one of the most severe flu seasons in a while. While you're probably going to be just fine, you can put more vulnerable people at risk by not taking proper precautions when you have the flu.
The Centers for Disease Control explained on its website that you can spread the flu to people up to six feet away from you, even before you feel sick. "Most healthy adults may be able to infect other people beginning [one] day before symptoms develop and up to 5-7 days after becoming sick. Children may pass the virus for longer than 7 days," the CDC reported.
"Symptoms start 1-4 days after the virus enters the body. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Some people can be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. During this time, those persons may still spread the virus to others." If you truly want to be a flu-season hero, here are some things you can do to avoid spreading the virus to others.
1. Get The Flu Shot Already
If you don't have a compromised immune system, and you're not allergic to vaccines, getting the flu shot is your best bet for not getting the flu in the first place. While it may only be 30 percent effective this year, people who get the flu shot tend to not get as sick and they get over the flu faster, according to National Geographic. What's more, the main purpose of the flu shot is to protect vulnerable populations like pregnant people, children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems.
"Among healthy adults, influenza vaccine provides protection, even when circulating viruses do not exactly match the vaccine viruses," the WHO reported. "However, among the elderly, influenza vaccination may be less effective in preventing illness but reduces severity of disease and incidence of complications and deaths. Vaccination is especially important for people at high risk of influenza complications, and for people who live with or care for the people at high risk." So, if you won't do it for yourself, do it for everyone else.
2. Learn How To Wash Your Hands The Right Way
At this point in your life you probably think you've got the whole hand-washing thing down. However, CBS News reported that up to 95 percent of people don't wash their hands correctly. Proper hand washing is important so you don't spread the flu virus to surfaces like doorknobs, or to other people's hands. If you want to learn how to wash your hands properly, earlier this month Bustle reported on how to wash your hands like a boss.
3. Please, Please, Please Stay Home
Easier said than done, right? If you work at a job that offers sick days, for the love of god use them. Dr. Pritish K. Tosh, an infectious diseases researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, told the New York Times that if you have the flu you should stay home at until 24-hours after your fever has subsided. But, what if you work someplace that doesn't offer sick days? I feel you. All through college I worked as a bartender, and if I didn't go to work not only did I not get paid, I was at risk of losing my job. Because I had no safety net, and no parental support, I worked through colds, the flu, and even while I had a broken bone in my foot.
"For people who are living paycheck to paycheck or have significant debt, the risks of staying home and losing pay or potentially losing their job are far too great," Vicki Shabo, vice president for workplace policies and strategies at the National Partnership for Women and Families, told the Times. In this case make sure you take every precaution if you have to go to work while you have the flu like wearing a mask, wiping down surfaces, washing your hands, etc.
4. During Flu Season, Sharing Is Not Caring
Flu season is one of the times when being selfish is encouraged. Dr. Peter Shearer, an emergency medicine physician at New York City's Mount Sinai Hospital, told ABC News that if you live with other people, sharing can put them at risk. "You sort of hate to, but during flu season, it's probably more hygienic to have people drying their hands on paper towels." Additionally, don't share bath towels, hand towels, food, silverware, dishes, or any other type of household item.
5. Keep Your Surfaces Clean AF
If you live with other people, and you have the flu, now is the time to harness your inner Monica Gellar. The CDC recommends wiping down hard surfaces on the regular, but emphasizes that this especially important when someone in the house is sick. Just because you can't see the flu virus doesn't mean you're not spreading it every time you touch something.
"The viruses do stay in the air for a period of time, but they also land on surfaces and can stay on surfaces for a period of time," Dr. Randy Bergen, clinical lead of Kaiser Permanente Northern California’s Flu Vaccine Program, told ABC News. "They can stay conceivably hours after you’ve touched something." It's not just countertops. You need to wipe down doorknobs, faucets, the handles on the microwave and the fridge, your computer and phone, and even the flush handle on the toilet.
6. Cover Your Freakin' Mouth
I think there should be a total moratorium on handshaking during cold and flu season, but alas we are a society of compulsive hand shakers. Unfortunately, when you clasp someone else's hand in greeting you have no way of knowing if they just coughed or sneezed on it. The WHO noted that the flu can be spread by hands that contain the virus, which happens when someone with the flu coughs or sneezes into their hands. "To prevent transmission, people should cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing, and wash their hands regularly."
You can also cough or sneeze into your elbow to reduce the risk of spreading the virus with your hands. Whatever you do, don't couch or sneeze without covering your mouth and nose because, as the WHO explained, "When an infected person coughs or sneezes, droplets containing viruses (infectious droplets) are dispersed into the air and can spread up to one meter, and infect persons in close proximity who breathe these droplets in."
7. Get Over Yourself & Wear A Mask
If you have the flu, and you need to venture out, it's time to don a surgical mask. While this might seem extreme, this year's flu strain, known as H3N2, is particularly bad, according to National Geographic. "H3N2 is historically the bad actor among influenzas," Lone Simonsen, an epidemiologist at George Washington University, told National Geographic. "It's also associated with complications."
You might feel silly with your mask, but the alternative could put people at risk for a life-threatening illness. If you feel too awkward, just wrap a scarf around your head to cover the mask. The Vanderbilt University Medical Center noted surgical masks as an important step in halting the spread of the flu. And, your fellow humans will thank you.
If you haven't had the flu yet, and you want to increase your chances of staying well, keeping your immune system strong is important. Make sure you're minimizing stress, sleeping adequately, and eating right to ensure that your immune system is as strong as possible. And, let's be honest, we need all the help we can get.