March 14, 2017

Here’s How Not To Get The Flu This Season

Here’s How Not To Get The Flu This Season

By Sean Dent, MSN, ACNP-BC, CCRN    

Ahh, the flu season -- that time of year when we’re all on the lookout for the potentially lethal (or at least very virulent) microorganism that can strike at any time and leave us wondering, “What truck just hit me?” 

While influenza is most active between October and March, it can strike at any time of year. We love calling the cold months of the year the “flu season” because it’s the time when we hunker down inside to avoid the inclement weather that blankets much of the nation. 

The flu isn’t something to take lightly -- it has the potential to cause severe illness that can turn deadly for the vulnerable. Yes, the flu can kill you. 

In addition to receiving the flu vaccine, there are some easy things you can do to help prevent the flu from “infecting” your world. Here are five super simple tips to help keep the flu at bay:

    1. Pay attention to your membranes

    2. Wash your hands before and after using the restroom

    3. Wash your hands before and after touching anything in public

    4. Understand where your hands have been

    5. Don't forget the endless chain of transmission

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Pay attention to your membranes

The flu is everywhere and anywhere – it travels through the air and on virtually any object. While most transmission is airborne (yes, floating out there in the air you breathe), you can spread the virus simply by touching an object that has the virus on it. 

But here’s the key to the chain of transmission: it has to enter your system through a mucous membrane. This transmission means touching your eyes, mouth, and nose – and to a lesser extent your ears – with a soiled finger.

Your mucous membranes are the barrier between what’s outside and inside your body. You just rubbed your eye – where have your hands been?  

Remember when your parents told you to get your fingers out of your mouth? Yeah, they were actually onto something (as much as you wanted to dismiss them as paranoid). 

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Wash your hands before and after using the restroom

Pay attention to what you touch in the restroom (and elsewhere) –  these objects we put our hands all over are sometimes called “high touch surfaces”. 

Let’s face it, you touch a variety of objects of questionable cleanliness. Remember, the germs are there – you just can’t see them. 

Wash your hands before and after you take care of business. Washing your hands is the single best preventive action you can take. Period. 

Pay attention to what you touch the minute you wash your hands and reach for the paper towel. How many people have used the restroom and not washed their hands at all? All of those people just touched the flush handle, the sink, and the doorknob. Can you say “eww”?

Wash your hands before and after touching anything in public

This goes along with the bathroom suggestion: notice the things you touch. Some of the less obvious surfaces that carry germs are money, shopping carts, products and shelving units in stores, gas pumps, the coffee condiments in your favorite cafe, and the ATM keyboard. When did you last touch one of these common objects? (Yes, this is how some nurses think!)

Now, imagine there’s blood or something horrible that’s clearly visible on an object you just touched – do you want to wash your hands now? If you don’t, why not? 

Recognize where your hands have been

Some of the places your hands have been are not completely obvious. One of the most germ-infested places that many of us visit is our local fitness facility. How many objects did you touch, manipulate, or hold? I’m willing to bet you weren’t the only person touching them. 

Many of us will work out, grab our gear, and leave without ever thinking about washing our hands. And let’s not forget to mention where your hands have been if you have young children or pets. 

Speaking of the relative grossness of objects in the public space, do you ever clean your phone and earbuds? How many times an hour do you handle them after touching potentially infectious high-touch surfaces? 

Don’t understimate the chain of transmission

Did you just visit the local coffee shop? 

Did you just get the oil changed in your car? 

Did you use the cashier’s pen to sign your receipt? 

Did you just give your debit card to a waiter in a restaurant? 

Did you pick up your mail? How many surfaces did that envelope touch? 

Did you visit a friend’s house? Did any of them just get over a cold (or the flu)?

As you can see, your mind can get lost in the virtually endless chain of transmission. Dare I say that it can feel a tad overwhelming when you think about it? 

The great thing is that you have the ability to break that chain of transmission at any given moment by simply washing your hands. I mean, seriously, imagine how many times a day a nurse washes her hands. Do you think they do that for no good reason? It’s food for thought in the interest of your health and well-being! 

Next Up: 2017 Flu Season Breakdown

Sean Dent, MSN, ACNP-BC, CCRN, is an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, freelance blogger, vlogger, podcaster, speaker, and social media maven. He started his career as a diploma-trained RN and now practices as a full-time Board Certified Acute Care Nurse Practitioner in a Shock Trauma teaching hospital. When he’s not saving lives or creating content online, he’s usually drinking coffee and eating bacon.

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