Flu prevention

The flu is a contagious infection. That means that everyone is at risk of catching it. To make matters more difficult, the flu is contagious a day before people experience symptoms, so they can spread the virus onto others without even knowing it.

The good news is that there are many simple things you can do to help prevent flu infection. This is especially important for people who are at risk of flu complications and more serious illness. Such people are also more likely to be hospitalized. At-risk people include children older than 6 months and younger than 5 years, pregnant women, people with medical conditions, Aboriginal peoples, and people who are older than 65 years. See "Are you at risk?" for more information on at-risk groups.

This flu season, stay on top of your health by taking the following steps to prevent spreading the flu.

Avoid contact. Avoiding someone who has the flu is the most obvious way to protect yourself from the flu. This includes avoiding anyone who has flu-like symptoms while the person has symptoms and for at least 24 hours after the person's fever ends.

Wash your hands. Frequent hand-washing is a simple way to reduce the spread of the flu virus. Proper hand-washing means washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Wash often: before and after eating, after using the washroom, after coughing and sneezing, after touching potentially-contaminated surfaces, and after being in a public place. Dry your hands using a clean cloth or paper towel and turn off the tap with the paper towel or cloth. When hands are not visibly dirty and soap and water are not available, alcohol-based sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol by volume are a good alternative. See "Handwashing 101" to learn more.

Watch where you cough, sneeze, and place your hands. The flu virus can enter the body through the mouth, nose, or eyes, so avoid touching your face with your hands. In addition, you should cough and sneeze into a tissue and dispose of the tissue immediately. If tissue isn't available, cough and sneeze into your arm, not your hand. Always wash your hands after coughing and sneezing.

Stay healthy. Your immune system needs all the strength it can get. Keep it strong by eating healthy meals and staying physically active.

Clean and disinfect. Since viruses can live on hard surfaces for up to 48 hours, common surface areas should be cleaned and disinfected regularly with household cleaners. Make sure you scrub down doorknobs, light switches, keyboards, computer mice, telephones, and remote controls.

Manage your medical condition. People who have chronic medical conditions should make sure they are managing them as well as possible. These people are at risk of flu complications. Follow all treatment options (e.g., medications, vaccines against certain diseases such as flu or pneumonia) as recommended by your doctor. If you are taking medications, make sure you have at least a 2-week supply at home so that you don't have to leave it to get more. Ask your pharmacy if they have a delivery service.

Stay home. Just as you wouldn't want others to infect you with the flu, you should stay home until your symptoms are gone if you do get sick. By staying home, you reduce the risk of spreading the virus to someone else.

If you do get the flu and you are at risk of complications, reduce the risk of complications by visiting your doctor as soon as you have symptoms (locate the flu clinic nearest to you). Your doctor can outline treatment options that will make recovery easier. Use the Doctor Discussion Guide to help you prepare for your visit to your doctor.

If someone in close contact with you, such as others living in the same household, gets the flu, you should consider seeing your doctor as soon as possible to discuss treatments to prevent the flu. For people at risk for flu complications, this is a good way to help prevent the flu. For more information on medications to prevent flu, see the next section.