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Spreading Flu: Do You Know the Rules?

No one wants to see family members, friends, or colleagues get sick. That's why it's important to understand "the rules" on how to keep the flu virus to yourself -- and avoid spreading the flu to others.

What Is the Flu?

Influenza -- or the flu -- is an extremely contagious viral disease that appears most frequently in winter and early spring. The infection spreads through the upper respiratory tract and sometimes invades the lungs.

How Are Flu Viruses Spread?

The main way that illnesses like flu are spread is from person to person in respiratory droplets of coughs and sneezes. This is called "droplet spread," according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Tiny drops from a cough or sneeze of an infected person move through the air and are deposited on the mouths or noses of people nearby.

Germs are also spread when a person touches mucus droplets from another person on a surface like a desk and then touches his or her own eyes, mouth, or nose before washing his or her hands. We know that some viruses like the flu can live two hours or longer on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs, and desks.

Tips to Avoid Spreading or Catching the Flu

According to the CDC, there are good health habits you can use to avoid catching the flu -- and avoid spreading the flu if you do get sick. Here are some tips to follow:

1. Avoid close contact.

Germs are transmitted easily when you live in close quarters, especially during winter months when we stay indoors. If you have the flu or a cold, avoid getting close to colleagues, friends, or family members. Tell them you're sick and that you don't want them to catch the virus. This helps protect them from getting sick, too.

2. Stay home from the office or school when you're sick.

If you feel sick, stay home from work or school. Do your colleagues or classmates a favor and keep the flu virus to yourself.

A healthy adult can infect other people one day before you have any symptoms and up to five days after you get flu symptoms. This means you can unknowingly infect your team at work or friends at school before you know you're sick. In addition, if you go back to work or school within five days of having flu symptoms, chances are great that you are still quite contagious.

3. Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough.

When you cough or sneeze, protect others from your germs by covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or the inside of your elbow. Afterward, dispose of the tissue and wash your hands thoroughly to remove germs.

4.  Wash your hands frequently throughout your day.

Hand washing is the most powerful way to prevent spreading flu germs. Alcohol-based hand disinfectants work great, too. If you have young children, be sure to teach them to wash their hands often with warm soapy water to slough germs off their hands. Provide alcohol-based hand disinfectants for teachers to use with children at school during flu season. Keep hand disinfectants in your desk and car, especially during flu season.

WebMD Medical Reference

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