It’s always better to prevent, rather than treat an illness. By following three simple guidelines, you can greatly reduce your chance of getting the flu:
- Get a flu vaccination.
- Stop the spread of germs.
- Practice good health habits.
The single best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated each fall. About two weeks after vaccination, the body develops antibodies that protect against the flu. The standard flu vaccine (flu shot) uses killed flu viruses to help the body build immunity.
To learn more, visit our Flu Shot webpage.
Stop the Spread of Germs
When a person with the flu coughs or sneezes, the flu virus germs are spread into the air, where they can be inhaled by healthy people or contaminate nearby surfaces.
Follow these tips to stop the spread of germs:
Cover your cough
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
- Throw away the tissue after use. If a tissue is not available, cough or sneeze into your sleeve or into the crook of your elbow.
- Do not cough or sneeze into your hand.
- Make sure to distance yourself from other people by at least three feet when coughing or sneezing.
- After coughing or sneezing, wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Wash your hands often
- Hands should be washed using soap and warm, running water for at least 30 seconds. Visit the Hand Washing webpage for detailed instructions.
- Kids can be taught to sing “Happy Birthday” twice to ensure they wash their hands for the appropriate amount of time.
- If soap and water are unavailable, use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
- Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Germs can live for a long time on surfaces like doorknobs, desks, and tables.
Stay home when you are sick
- You can infect others one day before getting symptoms and up to five days after getting sick. You may be spreading the flu without even realizing it.
- Get plenty of rest, and seek medical attention if you do not feel better in a few days.
- Change linens frequently.
- Do not share eating utensils, drinking glasses, towels or other personal items.
- Keep household surfaces clean.
- Avoid using alcohol and tobacco.
Practice Good Health Habits
- Sleep at least eight hours each night.
- Eat nutritious food.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Manage stress.
- Be physically active.
Frequently Asked Questions
Taking an antibiotic will not treat or prevent viral infections such as the flu. If a bacterial infection such as an ear or sinus infection develops after the flu, antibiotics might be helpful.
Additionally, large doses of vitamin C, or other vitamins and minerals, will not prevent or treat the flu.
Antivirals treat viral infections and antibiotics treat bacterial infections. Colds, flu and most sore throats and bronchitis are caused by viruses.
Taking an antibiotic for a viral infection, such as a cold or the flu, will:
- Not fight the virus
- Not make the patient feel better
- Not yield a quicker recovery
- Not keep others from getting sick
Taking antibiotics to treat a viral infection may do more harm than good and increases the risk of getting an infection later that resists antibiotic treatment.
When should antiviral medication be taken?
Antiviral drugs are medicines that are not sold over-the-counter but are prescribed by a doctor or health care provider. Studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best for treatment when they are started within two days of getting sick.
However, starting them later can still be helpful, especially if the sick person is at high risk of serious flu complications or is very sick from the flu. People who are at high risk for flu complications should contact their health care provider if they have questions or concerns. Follow instructions for taking these drugs.
Updated on: December 7, 2018