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Flu Etiquette

Proper etiquitte to avoid spreading germs that cause the flu.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Horrors! Uncle Jimmy is here for the holidays -- and he's come down with the flu. What should we do?


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Relax. Flu-Etiquette Man is here to help you avoid catching -- or spreading -- the flu.


Dear Flu-Etiquette Man,

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.


Of course, it would have been best if Uncle Jimmy had stayed home with the flu. You could have arranged with a local restaurant or food store to send him some fragrant chicken soup. But symptoms can strike suddenly, so maybe it's only misfortune that he's your guest just as his flu bug bit.


Dear Flu-Etiquette Man,

Kids being kids, how can I help them avoid other kids' flu germs?

Signed, Paranoid Parent


Flu-Etiquette Man spoke with pediatrician Corinne Taylor, MD, of Emory University and Emory Children's Center, Atlanta.


"I make my child recite the three rules every day before preschool: I will use Kleenex, I will wash my hands, and I will stay away from anybody with snot," Taylor tells WebMD. "Keep small children away from crowds -- and this year it is difficult, but try to keep it down to small groups. And try to stay the heck away from people who have the flu."

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