By far the most effective way to prevent flu is to have the annual flu vaccine.
Most cold and flu viruses are acquired from asymptomatic people in the incubation phase, and airborne viral infections are generally also difficult to contain. This makes it difficult to minimise exposure to these viruses. However, there are some general measures you can take to give yourself the best chance of escape:
In the office
- Wash your hands frequently and do not touch your nose, eyes or mouth unnecessarily.
- "Contain" sneezes and coughs with disposable tissues (and make sure to dispose of them right away!) and wash your hands afterwards.
- Try not to touch objects around you when in public places - such as the rail of the escalator, your coughing colleague's pen or computer mouse, etc.
- To minimise exposure, avoid close contact and prolonged time with people with colds and flu. With an incubation period of one to four days, and a contagious period of seven days or longer, it is best to avoid any person with flu for at least a week. One infected person in a lift, bus, aeroplane, school or army barrack can quite quickly infect the rest.
- Take a vitamin A or beta-carotene supplement to protect the inner, mucous linings of the respiratory tract.
- Quit smoking. Those who smoke are more vulnerable to complications of respiratory infections.
- The same principles apply as at work regarding sneezing etiquette, hand-washing, smoking etc. Don't forget your supplements.
- Clean surfaces - especially kitchen and bathroom tops - with a disinfectant soap.
- Discourage your child from sharing food, utensils, handkerchiefs, napkins and towels with classmates.
- Toys may be contaminated with respiratory secretions. Look for childcare centres where plastic toys are washed daily and stuffed toys washed weekly.
- Teach your children to wash their hands before and after eating, after using the bathroom, after touching their faces, after spending time in public spaces, and after touching animals.
- Rather keep your toddler at home if a child at the crèche has the flu and yours is healthy. Similarly, keep your child at home if they show symptoms of flu to avoid infecting other children.
- Ensure that the daycare personnel handling your baby or toddler place a new cloth over their shoulder every time they hold a different baby. This is important!
Reviewed (2006) by Dr Jane Yeats MBChB, BSc(Med)(Hons)Biochem, FCPathSA(Virology).
(Updated April 2014)