Reasonably effective ways to reduce the transmission of influenza include good personal health and hygiene habits such as: not touching your eyes, nose or mouth; frequent hand washing (with soap and water, or with alcohol-based hand rubs); covering coughs and sneezes; avoiding close contact with sick people; and staying home yourself if you are sick. Avoiding spitting is also recommended.
Although face masks might help prevent transmission when caring for the sick, there is mixed evidence on beneficial effects in the community (see figure 1). Smoking raises the risk of contracting influenza, as well as producing more severe disease symptoms. Thus, according to the laws of mathematical modelling of infectious diseases, smokers raise the exponential growth rates of influenza epidemics and may indirectly be responsible for a large percentage of influenza cases.
Figure 1. People wearing masks during flu outbreak. However, these regular face mask offers not much protection against influenza. The face mask has to be a good quality mask with certain minimum specifications, for instance N95 face masks.
Since influenza spreads through both aerosols and contact with contaminated surfaces, surface sanitizing may help prevent some infections. Alcohol is an effective sanitizer against influenza viruses, while quaternary ammonium compounds can be used with alcohol so that the sanitizing effect lasts for longer. In hospitals, quaternary ammonium compounds and bleach are used to sanitize rooms or equipment that have been occupied by patients with influenza symptoms. At home, this can be done effectively with a diluted chlorine bleach.
During past pandemics, closing schools, churches and theaters slowed the spread of the virus but did not have a large effect on the overall death rate. It is uncertain if reducing public gatherings, by for example closing schools and workplaces, will reduce transmission since people with influenza may just be moved from one area to another; such measures would also be difficult to enforce and might be unpopular. When small numbers of people are infected, isolating the sick might reduce the risk of transmission.