By Janis Graham
'Tis the season...for colds, flu, stomach bugs, and all those other ills that spread when people come together — whether by choice (at holiday parties) or circumstance (on airplanes). But don't start calculating your sick days just yet. This year you can do more than wash your hands and cross your fingers. Recent research, some of it sparked by the scary H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009, has uncovered new steps you can take to protect yourself and your family. Most...
It's too late to tell Uncle Jimmy to stay home. What can we do to keep him from giving the flu to the whole family?
Signed, Harried Hostess
Hygiene, Harried Hostess, hygiene. Remember that flu is spread by droplets given off by infected people as they cough, sneeze, or share household items. You get the germs if you get these droplets in your nose, mouth, or eyes. That can happen if Uncle Jimmy is rude enough to cough right at you. But flu mostly spreads by hand when people touch droplet-contaminated surfaces and then touch their eyes, nose, or mouth.
Hand washing is the most powerful way to prevent spreading these germs. Alcohol-based hand disinfectants work great, too. It would be a very good idea to give a small bottle of this to Uncle Jimmy. He should use it whenever he's put a tissue to his nose or mouth.
Make sure Uncle Jimmy has an unending supply of tissues. He must, of course, use them to cover his mouth when he coughs -- even if it seems to be only a dry cough. And make sure he disposes of the tissues in a plastic bag not kept near personal hygiene items or foods.
If Uncle Jimmy feels well enough to come to the table, please make sure that he does not share eating utensils. If you're passing dishes at the table, it might be best to make Uncle Jimmy his own plate, so he never has to pass the potatoes.
Do you have unvaccinated people in your household who are at high risk of flu complications -- children younger than 24 months, adults over 65, or people with chronic diseases or severe asthma? If these people have had a close encounter with Uncle Jimmy, they may want to see a doctor about flu drugs. These drugs can prevent the flu if taken soon after exposure.