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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

How Not to Spread the Flu

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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 highly contagious flu virus to yourself and avoid spreading it to others.

How Does It Spread?

Mainly from person to person in droplets that fly out when you cough or sneeze. These tiny drops from a sick person move through the air and land on the mouths or noses of others nearby.

Germs are also passed along when you touch mucus droplets from someone else on a surface like a desk and then touch your own eyes, mouth, or nose before you get a chance to wash your hands. Viruses like the flu can live 2 hours or longer on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs, and desks.

How to Avoid Spreading or Catching the Flu

1. Keep your distance.

It’s easy to pass on germs when you live in close quarters, especially during the winter when we’re all indoors. Avoid close contactwith colleagues, friends, or family members if you have the flu or a cold. Tell them you're sick and you don't want them to catch what you have.

2. Stay home.

If you feel sick, don't go to work. Keep ailing kids home from school, too.

An adult can infect other people one day before symptoms show up and up to 5 days after they start. You could spread flu to others before you know you're sick. If you go back to work or school within 5 days after your symptoms started, chances you’re still contagious.

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

This goes a long way toward protecting others from your germs. Use a tissue or the inside of your elbow. Afterward, toss the tissue and wash your hands thoroughly to remove germs.

4. Wash your hands -- a lot.

This is the best way to prevent the spread of the flu. If you have young children, teach them to wash often with warm soapy water. Tell them to rub their hands and fingers while singing Happy Birthday to You -- twice. Once isn’t enough time to get all the germs off.

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