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Take flu precautions during holiday visits
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The holidays fall in the middle of the annual flu season, increasing the need to avoid the spread of germs.
Jane Clary, health specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said visits to and from loved ones from other regions can hasten seasonal influenza's progress across the country and the globe. Every year there is the potential for seasonal flu to become pandemic, which is a disease outbreak that spans the world.
“Pandemics have occurred in the past, but never at a time when people are this mobile, and that's especially true during the holidays. Transcontinental travel has never been more common,” Clary said. “If a highly pathogenic influenza develops, it could spread very quickly across the globe. Most people will not have any immunity to the virus strain.”
The Web site for the national Extension Disaster Education Network offers several tips to avoid the spread of germs:
- Cover noses and mouths with a tissue when sneezing or coughing, and throw the tissue away afterwards.
- Wash hands often, especially after coughing or sneezing.
- Anyone with the flu should stay home from work or school and avoid exposing family members at home.
Clary said limiting exposure to people with the flu can be nearly impossible, especially when someone in the same household has the flu. It can be even harder to avoid spreading the flu outside the home since people can be contagious 24 hours before they realize they are sick.
“It is hard to cancel much-anticipated holiday visits, but sharing flu germs is not the best way to celebrate,” she said.
When people cannot avoid being around someone with the flu, they should closely follow medical recommendations on how to limit exposure to the disease.
“Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth because germs are often spread this way,” Clary said. “If caring for an infected family member, wash your hands frequently and consider wearing a mask and medical gloves. Frequently disinfect surfaces potentially exposed to the flu virus such as doorknobs, eating utensils, toothbrushes, clothing, bed sheets and telephones.”
Clary said there is plenty of flu vaccine available this year. Those who have not already been vaccinated should consider getting the protection.