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Hand sanitizer? Soap and water? Your guide to preventing flu

It's influenza season, but there are ways to protect yourself from flu that go beyond hand sanitizer and crossed fingers.
Clean stainless steel dishwasher
Stainless steel is tricky if you don't know, which products to use.Clean stainless steel dishwasher / Shutterstock
/ Source: NBC News

Flu’s circulating, and this year’s epidemic is on the nasty side. You can’t stay away from school or work for weeks on end, but what can you do to stop flu?

Here are five ways to keep yourself and loved ones safe from influenza:

1. Wash your hands

Flu spreads on little droplets of mucus and saliva that spread when people cough, sneeze and even when they talk. They can settle onto surfaces, which others then touch. Touching your mouth, nose or eyes with a contaminated finger can be all you need to transmit flu.

Hand sanitizers can kill influenza virus, but they don’t kill other viruses that are also around, including norovirus or winter vomiting disease. Washing hands with soap and water removes all kinds of germs. Frequent hand washing has been shown to limit the spread of infections.

2. Keep surfaces clean

Wipe down counters, handles, computer keyboards and other frequently touched surfaces with household cleaner, preferably one with bleach. If someone in your home has flu, keep vulnerable household members away. Those most likely to get severe symptoms from flu include kids under 5, the elderly, people with asthma and the immunocompromised, such as cancer patients.

3. Seek out fresh air

Several recent studies suggest influenza virus can be airborne, and that some people may exhale virus even if they are breathing normally, though the nose, with their mouths closed. Rooms with inadequate air circulation may help spread flu, although this has not been demonstrated yet scientifically.

Still, why take a chance? Look for well-ventilated rooms and keep your distance from people who may have flu.

4. Get vaccinated

Even when the flu vaccine is not terribly effective, it can still protect you from flu and almost certainly makes you less likely to get really sick. The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months should get a flu vaccine.

5. Keep it to yourself

And do everyone else a favor — keep your germs to yourself.

Don’t go to work, school, shopping or restaurants if you have a fever. Use a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then wash your hands and throw that tissue away. Cough into your arm, or if you cough into your hand, go wash it thoroughly right away. And remember — people can spread flu for about a day before they feel sick and for about a day after they are better.