While influenza activity in the United States is low at this time, it is expected to increase in the coming weeks. Most flu cases are reported from late fall to early spring each year. Since we are now in flu season, the Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center is emphasizing the importance of good health habits to stop the spread of germs. The most likely places to come in contact with respiratory viruses (such as cold and flu bugs) include:
When you drop off your child at a daycare center or preschool, that child will come in contact with many other children. Children can easily spread germs by touching their noses or mouths and then touching toys and other surfaces. Viruses can live on surfaces for hours, providing plenty of opportunity for kids to come in contact with respiratory bugs.
When passengers step onto a plane they share close quarters with a large number of people for a period of time. Some passengers will be sneezing and coughing. People with respiratory illnesses can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away. Most experts think that viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when ill people cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might also become ill by touching a surface or object that has a virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.
Any place where a large number of people congregate is a contagion zone. In a mall, people can come into contact with respiratory viruses not only by inhaling droplets, but by touching things such as elevator buttons, handrails of stairs and escalators, and merchandise.
Whether it is due to a deadline or an important meeting, some people come to work when they are sick. They may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before they even know they are sick. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming ill.
You may think of your home as a cozy, safe place, but respiratory viruses could be lurking on many different surfaces, from the handle of the refrigerator to the phone. Your children or spouse could bring bugs home with them and unknowingly spread it before they know they are ill.
The bottom line is: people can be exposed to respiratory viruses practically anywhere. The best thing is to proactively practice prevention techniques to avoid illness. Here are tips to protect yourself and others:
- Get a flu shot on an annual basis. This is the most important step in protecting against flu viruses. Vaccinating the entire family helps prevent the spread of disease between family members.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. If no tissue is available, sneeze into your sleeve or the crook of your elbow.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand-rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- If you are sick with a flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
- While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
The Lake County Health Department continues to offer flu vaccinations. For more information, visit: http://www.lakecountyil.gov/Health/want/Pages/Flu.aspx, or call the Health Department at: (847) 377-8470.