Flu Prevention: Wash Your Hands!

April 30, 2009
Written by Cathy

213655846_d2d5fe896e The big thing in the news right now is the swine flu.  What’s the big deal, you might ask?

The first thing to know is the flu is always a serious illness.  Pneumonia complication from a flu is the 8th leading cause of death in the industrialized world.  If you’ve ever had a stuffy, running nose and felt pretty miserable, chances are you just had a really bad cold.  If you had the flu, it would have knocked you off your feet. Literally.

A couple of years ago, my boyfriend and I were moving into a new apartment.  I felt fine when we started. Maybe a little fatigued that could be explained by lack of coffee or an early morning.  During the course of the move in the afternoon, I suddenly felt really tired.  Then I felt woozy, liked I had been drugged.  Then I felt really bad, and strangely cold.  I felt like if I didn’t sit down right that second, I wouldn’t be doing it voluntarily.  He finished loading up the moving truck on his own.  When we got to our new apartment, I grabbed a thermometer and laid in bed.  My temperature registered 102F.  It happened that fast, and completely incapacitated me.  My poor boyfriend finished moving the rest of our stuff by himself.

Usually if I was sick, I worked from home to take it easy and prevent infecting anyone else. I called in sick for a week, and could not even check email.  With 102 fever, I was near delirious and found it impossible to concentrate on anything.  I didn’t read a book, surf the internet, or make food.  I didn’t do anything except sleep.  The last time I felt that bad was when I had chicken pox at 19.  My doctor said it was too late to give me Tamiflu, and I would have to suffer through it.  I was told to go to the ER if my fever went above 103 or had pain in my back when I breathed (a sign of pneumonia).  Other than that, the only thing I could do was take ibuprofen and rest.  I stayed in bed and slept for 4 or 5 days until my fever broke.

Even after my fever broke, I still felt very ill.  I telecommuted for a week because I was wrecked.  I had an awful, powerful, dry cough that would not go away.  I went to my doctor again.  He said I had symptoms of asthma and gave me an inhaler.  I used the inhaler until my cough disappeared 2 weeks later.  I still felt weak and didn’t return to 100% of my normal activities for a month afterwards.

So if you’ve never had the flu, that’s what having the flu is like compared to a nasty cold.  You get a fever that knocks you flat suddenly; it is not subtle.  You don’t get a little sniffle, then a couple days later stronger symptoms appear.

How to know if you have a mild flu or severe flu. 
Mild flu:
You’re at home bed ridden. 
Severe flu: You’re in the hospital bed ridden.

While this new flu that has emerged does not yet seem to be any worse than a ‘normal flu’, the concern is because it is new, we don’t have a natural resistance to it.  It can spread very rapidly because no one in our community has yet been exposed to it.  Consider the case of the school children in New York.  A student went to the school nurse with a fever.  Then suddenly, there was a line of children with a fever.  With normal influenza where communities have some resistance, it does not happen that fast.  You see groups of people getting sick in larger numbers gradually.

Fortunately, everyone seems to be recovering normally.  However, that does not mean we should take this lightly.  The vast majority of us have not yet been exposed to this.  The only way we have to contain it at this point is to follow the advice about good hygiene.


  1. Wash your hands.  After using the toilet, before and after eating, after blowing your nose, and after coughing.  You need to wash for a full 20 seconds.  Sing Happy Birthday twice, or the ABC song.
  2. Cough into your elbow, not your hands.  If you are sick, this will help prevent disease transmission.
  3. Keep a hand sanitizer at your desk. Hand sanitizers must have at least 60% alcohol to be effective. If you cough or sneeze, use it.
  4. Don’t touch your mouth, nose, or eyes without washing your hands first.  The only way the flu virus can get in your body is through those three entry points.  Flu can travel on particles in the air, but by far the best way for you to get sick is to touch something infected, then touch your face.
  5. Brush your teeth. Seriously.  If hands are the main transportation for germs, your mouth is the main landing strip.  Keep a clean mouth so your immune system isn’t distracted fighting off silly halitosis germs (your coworkers are going to LOVE the new clean breath you!).
  6. Now that you are washing/sanitizing your hands frequently, keep a bottle of lotion nearby.  All that scrubbing is going to leave your hands dry and chapped.  Dry hands are carriers for diseases, believe it or not.  Keep your hands moisturized so it can help your body replenish natural oils and natural good bacteria that live on your skin.
  7. Wipe off your keyboard, mouse and desk area before you start work.  Wipe it down after you eat at your desk as well.
  8. While you are still healthy, avoid crowded places for a little bit.  We don’t know yet how far this is spreading.  It takes 2-5 days for the virus to incubate.  People who might be sick right now look healthy, and don’t know they are sick yet.  We won’t know for a few weeks how fast it is actually spreading with new infections.  If you must go out, wash hands frequently.
  9. Stay hydrated.  Your body fights infection the best when you are well hydrated.  Make sure you are drinking 1-2 liters a day.  Enjoy no more than 1 or 2 cups of coffee per day.
  10. Be well rested.  For optimal immune system function, get 7-8 hours of sleep per night.  No more, no less.
  11. Wearing a surgeon’s mask won’t help you much. So save it for your Halloween costume when you dress up as a cast member on Grey’s Anatomy.  Wearing a mask will only help if YOU are the one that is sick, by preventing your coughs and sneezes from leaving the most viral gunk load (yuck).

If You are Already Sick:

  1. If you have a fever, stay at home.  Going to work will put everyone at risk.  When you have a fever, you are shedding viruses at its peak rate.  If you really have the flu, believe me, you won’t be able to make it that far anyway.
  2. If you have a sudden fever and body aches, call your doctor.  See if he or she would like you to come in to be tested.  Call as soon as you register a fever. You will be contagious before you feel sick.  That’s the first 24 hours. If you have the flu, you have to go within the first 48 hours of getting symptoms for the Tamiflu shot to be effective.
  3. Drink lots of water and eat what you can stomach.  Your body needs water to flush the virus out of you.  Dehydration will lead to slow recovery or worse: complications.

Is this flu going to be a serious problem, or is it all hype?  Let’s not find out it’s something serious.  Let’s assume if nothing bad happens, then we did something right.  Not say the precautions were wrong.  We don’t want to know what the outcome might have been.  So wash, wash, and wash your hands!

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2 Responses to “Flu Prevention: Wash Your Hands!”

  1. Great post! All this stuff should be remembered well, even once this current thing dies down.

    Of all of this. i think drinking lots of water is the most important. Staying hydrated will ensure your body is given it’s best chance to fight any type of disease!

  2. I hope everyone remembers when the flu season starts up again in the fall, too. With the summer months ahead, I don’t think this strain will get much traction until the next flu season.

    I agree – drinking water is one of the easiest, cheapest, most accessible way of staying healthy!

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