Skip to content

    Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

    Font Size

    Prevent Flu: Steer Clear of Sick People

    When flu infects your friend or co-worker, how close is too close?
    WebMD Feature
    Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

    You've heard them -- flu-sick sneezers and coughers at the office, day care, shopping mall, or grocery store. Avoiding the flu is no small matter.

    So what can you do? One sure flu prevention tip is to avoid close contact with people who are sick. Anyone who is at high risk from the seasonal flu -- like young children and older adults -- should avoid crowds and public places during the usual flu season, from late October to mid-March.

    Swine Flu Outbreak: Get the Facts

    Swine Flu Slideshow

    Learn more about the H1N1 swine flu and see what you can do to stay healthy.

    View the slideshow.

    The honest truth is, in a large environment -- waiting rooms, airports, supermarkets -- it's very difficult to protect oneself from catching a virus," says Robert Schwartz, MD, chairman of family medicine at the University of Miami School of Medicine. "The last time I flew, the guy across from me was sneezing and coughing. I wondered if he had tuberculosis."

    A good idea: Stock up on hand sanitizers, either gels or hand wipes.

    Making It Work in a Crowd: Your Kids vs. the Grocery Cart

    When someone sneezes or coughs in your midst, you can try to protect yourself. "But covering your mouth or turning away doesn't really protect from microscopic airborne droplets," Schwartz says. "They travel through the air, and people breathe them in; they also land on clothes and hands. That's the mode of transmission."

    These days, "people need to understand that they are part of the world at large," Schwartz tells WebMD. "They contribute to the spread of illness not only in their own family, but also in their community. People need to become socially conscious." That's especially true in the era of a potential swine flu epidemic.

    Going out in public with young children poses its own risks, says Erica Brownfield, MD, a professor of internal medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. Like many small kids, her own daughter has a "thing" about putting her mouth on the grocery cart handle. "Who knows why?" Brownfield tells WebMD. "If you're worried about germs on the grocery cart, most grocery stores have wipes. Frequent hand washing is really the best thing you can do, especially when you've been in a public place."

    Today on WebMD

    hot toddy
    15 tips to help you feel better.
    man sneezing into elbow
    Do echinacea and vitamin C really help a cold?
    teen girl coughing
    Get a good night’s rest with these remedies.
    elder berry
    Eat these to fight colds, flu, and more.
    Natural Cold Flu Remedies Slideshow
    cold weather
    Allergy And Sinus Symptom Evaluator
    Boy holding ear
    woman receiving vaccine shot
    woman with fever
    Waking up from sleep
    woman with sore throat