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Influenza Infection control

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.


WHO and CDC recommendations

According to the WHO, you can decrease your chance of contracting the flu virus by taking the following steps:

Get yourself (or family members age 6 months and older) vaccinated against current strains of influenza, if possible
Keep your distance from people who show symptoms of influenza-like illness, such as coughing and sneezing (trying to maintain a distance of about 1 metre if possible)
Clean your hands thoroughly with soap and water, or cleanse them with an alcohol-based hand rub on a regular basis (especially if touching surfaces that are potentially contaminated)
Avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes as much as possible
Reduce the time spent in crowded settings if possible
Improve airflow in your living space by opening windows
Practice good health habits (including adequate sleep, eating nutritious food, and keeping physically active

The CDC lists these as important ways to lower the risk of transmission:

Cover the nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Throw tissues in the trash after use
Wash hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective
Avoid touching the eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread this way
Try to avoid close contact with sick people
Those sick with flu-like illness are recommended to stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone, except to get medical care or for other necessities. (The fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.) The sickened are advised to keep away from others as much as possible to avoid making others sick

Preventing Complications of Flu in Children

Watch for emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention. These warning signs include:

Fast breathing or trouble breathing
Bluish or gray skin color
Not drinking enough fluids
Not urinating or no tears when crying
Severe or persistent vomiting
Not waking up or not interacting
Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
Sudden dizziness
Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough

Influenza News

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