PAMF Health Blog

Be Well, Be Well Informed

Flu Season: Tips to Stay Healthy

Posted on Nov 1, 2012

Have you gotten your flu shot yet? Flu season is here, and I always tell my patients that the number one way to prevent flu is to get your flu vaccination. This helps protect you, your family, co-workers and community. Along with the flu vaccine, patients sometimes ask me about other flu prevention ideas, so I’ll share a few with you here.

 Flu Prevention Principles: 

  • Number one – get your flu vaccination
  • Wash your hands
  • Use a hand sanitizer
  • Regularly wash your linens
  • If you are infected, wear a mask if in close proximity to others, especially those who are high risk

 Habits to Avoid:

  • Eye Rubbing
  • Hand Sneezing or hand coughing
  • Nose rubbing or picking
  • Hand shaking
  • Do not reuse your tissues – throw away after each use

 Reminders for Kids:

  •  Keep them home from school if they are sick
  • Teach them about germs and how they are transmitted
  • Teach them how to cough/sneeze, wash their hands and how to use hand gel
  • Make sure they use enough and rub over all hand surfaces
  • Teach them when they should wash their hands
  • Teach them how to stay away from kids that appear sick: 6 ft distance (show them how far this is), no sharing toys, etc.

Hand Washing Technique:

  • Wet your hands with clean running water and apply soap – use warm water if it is available
  • Rub hands together to make a lather and scrub all surfaces
  • Continue rubbing hands for 20 seconds: Sing “ABCs” or sing “Happy Birthday” song twice
  • Rinse hands well under running water
  • Dry your hands using a paper towel or air dryer. If possible, use your paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the restroom door

 Hand Sanitizers:

  • Alcohol-based hand sanitizers kill viruses and bacteria
  • Must contain at least 60 percent alcohol (less won’t effectively kill viruses and bacteria)
  • Rub over all surfaces of hands and fingers until dry
  • If it dries up in less than 10-15 seconds after rubbing, then you haven’t used enough
  • Visibly soiled hands need to be washed
  • Keep sanitizer with you whenever possible, especially in areas of high people exposure (airports, conferences, shopping malls, etc.)
  • Use after exiting public restrooms, especially if your hand touched the door handle
  • Keep hand sanitizer in your car

 Optimize Your Immune System:

  • Adjust your environment (limit exposures- decrease travel if possible and stay at home)
  • Reduce stress
  • Get enough sleep
  • Exercise
  • Eat nutritious meals
  • Stay hydrated

What About Supplements?

In general, there is no strong support for use of supplements to boost immunity. This includes zinc, echinacea and Airborne. Vitamin C may help prevent colds, but is not shown to be effective treatment. Vitamin C may benefit individuals who exercise intensely or are in very cold environments (skiers, marathon runners, etc.). Most antioxidant supplements are inactivated by the body, unlike getting these antioxidants through your diet. There is no pill replacement for eating a nutritious diet.

 Key Numbers to Remember:

  •  6 feet: minimum safe distance
  • 24 hours: how long someone infected should remain without fever (without medications) before returning to work
  • 48 hours: ideal treatment window for antivirals
  • 20 seconds: minimum hand washing time
  • 1 to 7 days: how long you remain infectious
  • 8 hours: virus survival time on hard surfaces (door knobs, etc.) – time varies
  • 12 hours: virus survival time on soft surfaces (tissues, clothes, etc.) – time varies

Remember, you are still shedding the flu virus for about seven days after you develop flu symptoms, so resist the impulse to smother your kids with affection the minute your fever is gone. The same is true for kids after they recover. Limit contact with grandparents and other family members anxious to visit right away, especially if they are at high risk.

And most importantly, remember to get your flu shot even if you never get the flu – protect the people around you!

The CDC flu website has great information, and you can visit the Palo Alto Medical Foundation flu website for other medically accurate information and answers to frequently asked questions.

Ron Sinha, M.D.

This blog post is contributed by Ronesh (Ron) Sinha, M.D., PAMF Internal Medicine. Dr. Sinha works closely with the South Asian community to help reduce heart disease and diabetes risk, and provides corporate health lectures to promote wellness in the workplace. Dr. Sinha holds clinical faculty positions at the University of California, Los Angeles; Stanford University School of Medicine, and the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine. He teaches Stanford and UCSF medical students.