Fleeing from the flu

By Richard Harkness MCT

Q: What’s the best way to keep from coming down with the flu this season?

A: The best way to avoid the flu is to get your flu vaccination. There are also other important measures to take.

Influenza is a severe respiratory infection caused by a virus, a tiny piece of genetic information much smaller than bacteria. It usually enters the body through mucous membranes of the nose, mouth, or eyes.

Once you become infected it takes two days, on average, to get sick. When symptoms kick in, you’re likely to head to bed.

You can transmit the virus to others about a day before you get sick until about five days afterwards. Children can remain contagious even longer.

The flu virus spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Anyone could be contagious at any given time, so everyone should make a practice of covering their mouths with a disposable tissue whenever they cough. In a pinch, cough into your shirtsleeve. If you contaminate your hands, you will spread the virus to anything you touch.

Even if you manage to avoid close contact with sick or contagious people, you’re likely to come into contact with something they have contaminated by coughing or touching, particularly during an outbreak in the community.

Think doorknob, cell phone, computer keyboard, self-service gas nozzle, coins and paper currency.

The flu virus carried on your hands can gain entry into the body when you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.

So the best way to protect yourself, besides getting vaccinated against the flu, is to wash your hands frequently.

Handwashing is a pillar of protection that can’t be overemphasized. It also prevents the easy spread of other communicable diseases.

A survey of public restrooms around the country found that about 2 out of 10 people failed to wash up after using the toilet.

In one hospital study, according to Harvard Medical School, female doctors washed their hands after 88 percent of patient contacts. Male doctors, on the other hand, did so after only 54 percent of patient contacts.

Here are standard steps for effective handwashing:

“Wet your hands and apply liquid or clean bar soap.

“Rub your hands vigorously together and scrub thoroughly past your wrists. Also clean under fingernails.

“Continue for 10-15 seconds. Soap combined with scrubbing acts to remove germs.

“Rinse well and dry your hands.

I cringe a bit when I read that effective handwashing requires using soap. It’s true that’s the ideal way. But some people, seeing this instruction, are likely to just forego handwashing whenever soap is unavailable.