It’s one thing to take care of a child with the flu, but taking care of an entire family that’s down with the flu while you are sick yourself is another story. During this especially severe flu season, many worried parents are left wondering how they can avoid spreading the flu among family members in the household.

What is Flu?

Short for “influenza,” flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by a group of viruses that can infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs, according to the CDC. Flu can cause mild to severe (even fatal) illness, with symptoms typically including cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue. Fever may also occur, and young children are more susceptible than adults to suffer vomiting and diarrhea from flu.

To make matters worse, the flu shares some of the same characteristics as the common cold. Refer to this chart to help you decide which virus you’re dealing with.

How Does Flu Spread?

Flu generally spreads during colder months, when people are most likely to be in close, indoor contact. And while experts have commonly concluded that the flu is spread by larger droplets projected when infected individuals sneeze and cough, a new study reveals something more concerning – flu can be transmitted from one person to another just by breathing, which lends new urgency to the advice to stay home if you have the flu.

So, when little Susie is sick with the flu, she generates and exhales tiny droplets that can stay suspended in the air in a fine mist for up to a few hours. These droplets can be inhaled by people nearby. Unfortunately, new research shows this can occur even when Susie isn’t coughing or sneezing, and especially during the first few days of illness.

Avoiding the Spread of Flu

A flu vaccination might help you avoid the flu altogether. But if you haven’t gotten your shot yet, don’t fret – while it’s best to get vaccinated before flu season begins, getting vaccinated now can still be beneficial.

In addition to getting vaccinated, take the following precautions to help prevent the spread of flu:

  • Stay home and limit contact with others when sick with the flu; consider wearing an anti-viral face mask
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces during flu season. To do this, mix 1 gallon of water with ¼ cup of regular strength bleach (5.25-6%) or 2 ½ tablespoons of high-strength bleach (8.25%).
    • Clean the surface with warm, soapy water
    • Sanitize using the germ-busting bleach solution
    • Let air dry
  • If you have a family member who is at high risk of flu complications and they develop flu symptoms, encourage them to get a medical evaluation for possible treatment with flu antiviral drugs
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle to optimize your immune system defense

We hope these tips on how to avoid the flu when your family has it will help you stay healthy this flu season.