Dodging the flu bullet with a bit of soap and water

Outsmarting the flu virus takes a little bit of extra effort and a small dose of ingenuity, but it can be done.  Dr. Richard Jay at North Big Horn Hospital said the number one way is to get a flu shot in the fall months.  In addition to getting a flu shot, frequent hand washing, avoiding touching the face, wearing a mask and just staying away from people who are sick can all go a long way toward preventing illness.  

Washing your hands with soap and water often helps keep you healthy.

Washing your hands with soap and water often helps keep you healthy.

Jay, a proponent of immunization, said people mistakenly think they can get the flu from the flu shot because it will sometimes make individuals feel like they have a mild cold for a few days. Jay said he is surprised by how many people do not get the shot believing that it will actually make them sick.

“I guarantee that all you have to do is get Influenza A or B once and you won’t miss your shot again,” said Jay. “This is a severe type of flu that is worth taking precautions for.”

He said that while the illness may last 10 days to two weeks in the average adult it could last as long a six weeks, especially in the unimmunized individual.

“I’m talking about full-blown influenza in the average working adult who is already a little sleep deprived, not necessarily eating right and working a lot of hours,” said Jay.

Jay said the best defense is still washing hands frequently with soap and water. He said hand gels are not necessarily as effective as just plain old scrubbing of the hands with regular soap and water. He said antibacterial products are especially ineffective because they do not destroy viruses.

“The water doesn’t have to be hot or cold, a comfortable temperature works just fine,” said Jay. “What’s important is scrubbing the palm surface and in-between the fingers for at least a minute or two. It usually takes this long to adequately wash all the surfaces of the hands.”

Jay also recommends wearing a mask as a preventative measure, especially in public settings where exposure to individuals who are coughing and sneezing is common. The mask, he said, protects from droplets that linger in the air for some time after a cough or sneeze.  He said a simple mask from the hardware works just as well as a hospital mask.

Another preventative measure is to wipe shared surfaces, like keyboards, door handles and telephone receivers that may harbor the virus with a diluted solution of bleach. He recommends a solution of 1 ounce of bleach to 10 ounces of water. If premade wipes are used, Jay said to purchase wipes that are labeled antiviral on the packaging.

Avoid touching the face and, if possible, avoid having contact with people who have the flu, as people with flu symptoms remain contagious until their fever has been gone for at least 24 hours.

To stay on top of instances of flu visit the CDC website, which provides a weekly “FluView” of positive test results reported by individual states. There is also a link to the Wyoming Dept. of Health website on the CDC site. The weekly report, including individual reports for the state of Wyoming and other general information, can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/index.htm#S5.

by Patti Carpenter

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