As seen in recent reports about the swine flu (H1N1 flu), it is possible to contract a flu virus or cold at any time of the year, even during the spring and summer months. One of the easiest ways to prevent getting sick is by "social distancing," a method of controlling your physical interaction with your network of family, friends, and work colleagues.
Most flu viruses and colds have a one to seven day incubation period. The incubation period is the time between exposure to the virus and illness. A person is considered contagious one day before feeling ill and seven days after becoming sick or 24 hours after a person is better, whichever is longer. This means that you can be exposed to the virus by a person who feels fine.
General ways to reduce your exposure to cold and flu are the following:
- Wash your hands frequently. When you're washing your hands, make sure you wash the top of your hands and in between your fingers. It should take about 15-20 seconds, or the same amount of time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday."
- Keep your hands off your face. Virus' spread when germs from your hands reach your nose, eyes, and/or mouth.
- Sneeze and cough into your elbow, not into your hands. This will keep the flu and cold germs off the items and people you come into contact with.
A more intense way of avoiding exposure is social distancing. This behavior puts an increased distance between you and others. During times of great concern, you might consider the following tips when interacting with others:
- Do not attend big events, such as concerts, sporting events, church services, and extracurricular activities at school.
- Avoid shaking hands with people.
- Stand 6-7 feet away from others. This is a further distance than normal, but it is the safest way to avoid being sneezed or coughed on.
These are good ways for reducing your chances of acquiring the flu or a cold, but what if you have already contracted a virus or are demonstrating symptoms?
- Stay home. If you're not feeling well, avoid school, work, and other functions or events where you will come into contact with people.
- Drink plenty of fluids. If you are running a temperature you could become dehydrated, so drink lot of water and juice.
- Contact your doctor to determine if an anti-viral medication might be warranted. Visit your doctor if symptoms worsen. He or she may prescribe antibiotics if you have a secondary bacterial infection. Remember, antibiotics have no impact on viruses.
For more information about pandemic flu, visit our website at www.ca.uky.edu/HES/fcs/pandemicflu/index.html. For additional information about H1N1 flu, visit the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/. Additional information about social distancing is also available from the CDC at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol12no11/06-0255.htm.