How can I not get the flu?
February 23, 2009 11:56 AM   Subscribe

How can I avoid getting the flu? I have gotten spooked by a couple coworkers who got SICK from the flu, which they caught from their kids, and I am very intent on avoiding the same fate (trouble coming out of both ends). Short of covering myself in saranwrap and lysol, and then hiding in an ICBM silo, what do you suggest?

I'm going to get a flu shot tomorrow morning, and I just bought some Purel hand sanitizer that I plan on using as often as I remember.

Is there any truth to immunity-boosting supplements? Should I exercise more? Or avoid the gym and exercise less? I'm in Washington, DC, and it's like 33 degrees out, so running outdoors isn't an attractive option.
posted by allen8219 to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You seem to suggest that your coworkers are coming down with a digestive ailment ("trouble coming out of both ends"). Influenza is a respiratory disease. It's more likely that your coworkers have something along the lines of a norovirus. A flu shot won't help you.

Was your hand frequently, using plenty of soap and hot water.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:59 AM on February 23, 2009

Life will always have risks. You will never be able to avoid all the viruses and germs out there. The shot will help the most. Washing your hands frequently will help somewhat. Alternative medicine mumbo-jumbo the least.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:59 AM on February 23, 2009

posted by mr_roboto at 12:00 PM on February 23, 2009

Wash your hands often with hot water and soap for at least thirty seconds.

Ask your doctor for tamiflu.
posted by mandapanda at 12:02 PM on February 23, 2009

zinc (not too much or you'll screw up you zinc/copper balance), vitamin c, and echinacea work nicely to boost your immune system.
posted by brevator at 12:05 PM on February 23, 2009

Best answer: The "flu" you speak of sounds more like the stomach flu, aka norovirus. The CDC has tips for avoiding infection on their Q&A (at the bottom).

(Can you tell I'm familiar with that page? I've had norovirus twice, DO NOT WANT AGAIN.)
posted by geeky at 12:06 PM on February 23, 2009

Best answer: allen8219, if you are talking about the so-called stomach flu, that is not the same as influenza, and some strains of influenza are what the flu shot protects you against (still a good thing to get the flu shot for general health purposes). Stomach flu is gastroenteritis (note that this link has good info. on prevention and treatment).
posted by gudrun at 12:06 PM on February 23, 2009

Wash your hands and hope for the best. If more than one person around you is sick, you're probably going to be sick.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:08 PM on February 23, 2009

Agree with the Norovirus theme. Also dont forget that some people can be immune to viruses even if they have been infected with a related virus or a less virulant form so you may not necessarily develop the full blown attack. In general handwashing and avoiding eating/drinking at the office pantry (or out of the communal fridge) may be a good idea.
posted by london302 at 12:12 PM on February 23, 2009

Don't touch your face or things that go in your mouth without washing your hands or using alcohol gel. Keep in mind that if you wash your hands rigorously and then go touch the bathroom door handle or hit an elevator button after someone who is sick and then go to lunch, you've undone your hand washing.

I spend three hours a day at a Reference Desk with a shared workstation. I wipe everything down before I start: mouse, keyboard, phone, even pens. I get sick less than other staff.
posted by codswallop at 12:13 PM on February 23, 2009

While it does sound more like "stomach flu" than influenza, just to be devil's advocate to everybody else's suggestions -- and to be thorough in case anyone else comes here based on an Internet search and is trying to get total health advice from the Internet (God help them) rather than just some helpful suggestions...

Diarrhea and vomitting ARE symptoms of influenza as well, particularly in kids, though trust me, it can happen to an adult too.

Like I said, I'm not disagreeing with the previous posters. Just don't want anyone to get the wrong idea that just because it sounds more like B, it doesn't mean it might not still be A.

In any case, get the shot.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:15 PM on February 23, 2009

Best answer: I'm probably going to jinx myself here, but my husband had norovirus two weeks ago, and I didn't catch it despite living in the same household and using the same bathroom (we slept in separate rooms). I kept to my normal diet and did not take supplements. The only thing I did differently (besides not sleeping with him) is wash my hands more frequently and be mindful of not touching my mouth, nose or eyes.

I'm assuming you're not going to sleep with your coworkers, so wash your hands a lot and don't worry too much. Also, don't do things that lower your resistance to infections, like drink alcohol.
posted by desjardins at 12:23 PM on February 23, 2009

Nthing wash your hands a lot and -- this is key -- avoid touching your face or your eyes any more than absolutely necessary.
posted by scody at 12:33 PM on February 23, 2009

Avoid sharing pens w/ the public. (Like at the bank or other checkout stands) Bring your own pen.

Avoid using baskets at the grocery store. (I bring my own hand basket.)

Avoid using money (I use a debit card for everything.)

Use your knuckle to press buttons like microwave ovens and ATMs.

Avoid children.

And of course wash your hands whenever you can.

Source: I never catch the flu using these methods. And, yes, I have OCD.

The Howard Hughes method - don't shake hands with people. Hard to do in real life. If you do shake hands don't touch your face or eat until you have washed your hands.
posted by cda at 12:48 PM on February 23, 2009

Nthing the washing the hands, and will add to that to avoid sharing things like phones and pens, or touching surfaces that many hands have touched. This includes things like door handles, toilet handles, etc - not to be gross, but my 20+ years of working in a cube farm have taught me that many, many people do not wash their hands after tending to bathroom matters. And that's exactly how things like norovirus spread.
posted by chez shoes at 12:53 PM on February 23, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everybody! I marked a few best answers for good links, etc., but everyone was helpful!

After further investigation, it looks like it is the flu, and the both-ends symptom was bad intel from another coworker.

I am lucky enough to have my own (small) office, in which I will barricade myself, armed with water, Purell, and snacks, from 9-5 daily until this whole thing blows over.

I am so aware of my face, and of not touching it... I think I'm a big eye-rubber/nose-scratcher, so we'll see how long I can keep that up.
posted by allen8219 at 1:12 PM on February 23, 2009

Get the flu shot, then, definitely. Note that the flu shot generally takes one to two weeks to become fully effective after you get it, so your plan to try to stay away from the possibly infected and to practice good hygiene is not a bad one. Also, make sure you get plenty of rest, eat right, try to stay away from crowds, and, as desjardins says, generally try not to do things that lower your resistance.
posted by gudrun at 1:33 PM on February 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have been taking one garlic pill (Medigar brand) before bed for about 1.3 years, and I have not been sick since February '08. This is unusual for me, as I used to get sick several times every winter. YMMV, but I am convinced it is the garlic.
posted by ydnagaj at 4:26 PM on February 23, 2009

My kids both had a really bad bout with the flu just two weeks ago, and my spouse swears by Zicam, which he took religiously at the first sign of a scratchy throat. He never got sick at all.

I can testify that this is not the first time he has chased away illness completely with this method, whether because Zicam really does the trick or because he has so thoroughly convinced himself that it does he's getting a placebo effect from taking it.

Though I was sick, too, I had a lesser case than the kids, which I attributed to my just generally taking lots of Vitamin E on a regular basis.
posted by misha at 5:07 PM on February 23, 2009

This may be kind of silly, but I happen to have read a post about avoiding/overcoming illness mere moments ago, which seems like too much of a coincidence to ignore...make of this what you will...
posted by james.nvc at 5:27 PM on February 23, 2009

Here in Japan, face masks are extremely common. They are used 1) to prevent getting a cold or the flu, or 2) if you already have an illness and don't want to get everyone else sick. If you wear one in the States people think you're a hypochondriac or something, but in Japan people of all ages wear the things, especially in winter. I suppose they do help flu prevention to some extent, though a lot of what I hear may be marketing bullshit.
posted by zardoz at 11:27 PM on February 23, 2009

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