Protect Yourself And Others During The Cold And Flu Season

BINGHAMTON, NY - Avoiding illness during the cold and flu season can be a challenge. People with increased stress in their lives, individuals with weakened immune systems and households with school-aged children are especially at risk. However, simple hygiene practices can go a long way toward preventing illnesses such as the common cold and influenza. "The following are some ways to lower your risk of catching colds, coughs or flu this winter - but if you become ill, there's also some good advice on how to get better soon," says Diane O'Hora, Director of Health Education for the Broome County Health Department.

Keep your lifestyle as healthy as possible. A nutritious well-balanced diet, plenty of rest, and regular exercise makes it easier for your body to resist infection, including colds and flu. Don't smoke. Non-smokers get fewer colds, coughs, sore throats and flu.

Reduce your risk of catching a cold or flu by washing your hands more often. Using warm water and soap removes germs better than a quick rinse under the cold tap. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with your hands - these are all ways that germs can get into your body. Always wash your hands after:

  • Blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
  • Going to the bathroom
  • Before and after eating
  • After contact with or being near someone who is ill
  • Before and after handling and preparing food
  • After touching animals

It's very easy to pick up cold and flu germs from things other people have touched, such as telephones, door handles, or money. Avoid touching other people's used tissues or handkerchiefs. Use disposable tissues and throw them away after each use. Because the viruses that cause these infections are coughed and sneezed into the air you share with other people, it helps to stay away from people who are ill, and to avoid enclosed crowded places when possible.

If you do get sick, stay home from work to avoid passing the illness to others. The best treatment is rest. Keep warm and drink plenty of fluids to avoid becoming dehydrated. Although there are no drugs to cure colds and flu, your health care provider can recommend medications to relieve symptoms.

If your sickness is severe enough to warrant a visit to the doctor's office or hospital emergency room, you may see a sign at the entrance instructing patients and persons who accompany them (e.g., family, friends) to inform healthcare personnel of symptoms of a respiratory infection when first registering. In order prevent the spread of infection, you may be asked to wear a mask to contain respiratory secretions and to practice the following respiratory hygiene/cough etiquette strategies:

  • Cover the nose/mouth when coughing or sneezing;
  • Use tissues to contain respiratory secretions and dispose of them in the nearest waste receptacle after use;
  • Perform hand hygiene (e.g., hand washing with non-antimicrobial soap and water, alcohol-based hand rub, or antiseptic hand wash) after having contact with respiratory secretions and contaminated objects/materials.

When space and chair availability permit, coughing persons may further be encouraged to sit at least three feet away from others in common waiting areas.

For more information on reducing your risk of contracting or spreading respiratory illness contact your health care provider, or call the Broome County Health Department at 607.778.3921.