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Reduce Your Risk of Infection

Simple Precautions Make a Difference

In October health officials began to administer a vaccine to help prevent humans from getting this season's flu. Those at greatest risk are encouraged to get a flu shot immediately. This includes pregnant women, people who live with or care for a child under the age of 6, those at higher risk because of existing health conditions, healthcare and emergency personnel, and persons 6 months to 24 years old.

Health Basics

Being in good health can protect you if a flu pandemic occurs. A healthy body means a strong immune system that fights off infection. Things you can do to maintain good health include eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and getting adequate sleep.

Get a Standard Flu Shot

Your annual flu shot won't protect you from a pandemic flu virus, but it will protect you against the more common flu viruses that health experts expect to be present during the flu season. It is also a precaution against the possibility of getting simultaneous infections with the common flu and a more serious flu strain.

Frequent Hand Washing

Studies have shown that flu virus can survive on surfaces for 2-8 hours, which is why it is important to wash your hands regularly. Use soap and water or, when traveling or when water is scarce, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (60%-90% alcohol) to help prevent the spread of infection of all kinds. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are actually better than soap and water at killing bacteria and viruses.

It is extremely important to wash your hands after touching your nose, mouth, or eyelids. Even when washing, avoid touching your mouth or eyes with your fingers. Use throw-away paper towels or dedicated cotton towels for each person.

Proper Respiratory Hygiene

Cover your mouth and nose with tissue when you cough or sneeze. Discard used tissues immediately. If no tissue is available, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve (inner elbow).

Limited data is available regarding the use of face masks in preventing the spread of the flu. If you are ill, stay home for 7 days after your symptoms begin or after you are symptom free for 24 hours.

When Providing Care - Gloves and a Mask

Consider wearing latex gloves when caring for someone with the flu (but still wash your hands). Latex-free gloves are available if you have a latex allergy. Wear a N95 face mask to protect yourself from inhaling airborne particles from the infected person's coughs and/or sneezes.

Be Careful About the Food You Consume

Do not eat undercooked poultry or raw eggs. Thoroughly cooking poultry and eggs - and other types of meat - kills bacteria and viruses within those products.

Stay Informed

Look to reliable news sources for up-to-date information and recommendations from health experts. Keeping up with developments world-wide can reduce the chances you will be caught off-guard. See the resources section below for more information.

Drugs That May Help Treat Influenza

If a flu pandemic begins, there are two anti-viral prescription drugs that are often recommended to treat the symptoms.

  • Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) This drug can reduce the severity and duration of illness caused by regular seaon influenza. Tamiflu may also help limit the symptoms and reduce changes that the flu will spread, but it is not clear how effective this drug is against a particulor flu virus.

    Government officials are stockpiling Tamiflu in the event of a pandemic, but that doesn't mean that you can or should do this as well. Supplies of this drug are not unlimited and if there were a pandemic, current supplies would be needed to treat infected people and help control the spread of the virus.

  • Zanammivir (Relenza) This drug is also used for regular flu, but it's effectiveness against all flu strains is not known.
  • Should you bother getting a seasonal flu shot? Yes. Seasonal flu is as much of a concern as it has always been. A regular shot will protect you and your family from the body aches, cough and misery of seasonal flu, and make you less susceptible to other sicknesses.

    Pandemic Flu Online Resources


    Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
    Tel: 1-800-232-4636
    TTY: 1-888-232-6348

    U.S.Department of Health & Human Services
    Tel: 1-202-619-0257
    TTY: 1-877-696-6775

    Federal Emergency Management Agency

    Additional Resources

    H1N1: Frequently Asked Questions

    Taking Care of the Sick at Home (COPEline Article)

    List of Essentials (PDF)

    Personal Health Data Checklist (PDF)

    Emergency Contacts Checklist (PDF)

    Written by Trish Christin, M.N., RN, CS, CEAP
    Edited by Mary Sue McClain

    COPELines are published by COPE, Inc.

    This material may be reproduced without permission provided that it is not modified or altered in any way and acknowledgment is made to COPE, Inc. All information on this site is © 2018 COPE, Inc.