‘Wash your hands,’ and other easy ways to avoid passing on the flu

These simple steps will keep your healthy friends from hating you when you get sick.
Feb. 14, 2020

Even if you received your annual influenza vaccination, there’s still a small chance you could get the flu. The flu shot can’t protect against every possible strain of flu viruses, but it does keep tens of thousands of people out of the hospital each year.

If you end up with the flu despite your efforts to prevent it, the last thing you want to do is pass it on to anyone else. It’s pretty easy to keep your germs to yourself if you live alone, but if you share your household with others, you’ll want to take every precaution to minimize its spread while you recover.

A woman gets a flu shot from a provider
How to avoid passing along the flu? UCHealth physicians recommend that patients do not delay getting a flu shot. Photo: Getty Images.

Dr. Guy P. Van der Werf, who practices family medicine at UCHealth Primary Care – Estes Park, shares these tips to help you avoid passing the flu on to your loved ones:

Go to the doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms so you can be tested for the flu and be treated, if needed. Flu-like symptoms can include fever, chills, body aches, fatigue, cough, sore throat, congestion, and headaches.

 “If you are concerned, go see a doctor between one to two days of onset. The sooner that you come in, the more effectively we can treat you,” Dr. Van der Werf says.

 If you can’t get in with your primary care provider in time, you still have options. Find a UCHealth Urgent Care location near you or schedule a Virtual Urgent Care visit with an online provider. Learn more about using Virtual Urgent Care for when you are experiencing flu-like symptoms.

Consider antiviral medication

 Dr. Van der Werf says he often prescribes his flu patients the anti-viral medication Tamiflu, which can help lessen the severity and duration of your symptoms. But you have to act fast; antivirals work best when administered as early as possible.

Avoid close contact with others

 “You don’t necessarily need to mask up at home, but it’s not an unreasonable precaution to take. And of course, stay at home a few days until the fever is gone and you are feeling better. Don’t go to work and expose anyone else,” Dr. Van der Werf says. “If you must leave the house to go to work or travel by plane or bus, wear a mask.”

You also may want to suggest your partner sleep in another room until your symptoms subside.

“While I haven’t seen any clinical proof, I think it’s a reasonable suggestion to sleep in separate bedrooms so the person who is well won’t be exposed to as many viruses,” he says. “It can’t hurt and might provide a little bit of protection.”

Practice good hand hygiene

 It doesn’t matter if you prefer to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer; just make sure to clean your hands often.

“Sometimes when we are sick, we cough in our hand, and then our hands are contaminated,” Dr. Van der Werf says. “Lots of good handwashing will help.”

>> Learn more about influenza, including symptoms, causes, and treatments