Seasonal flu is not just a really bad cold. The flu is a contagious illness that affects the nose, throat, lungs and other parts of the body. It can spread quickly from one person to another. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing by people with influenza. Sometimes people may become infected by touching something – such as a surface or object – with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose. Every year in the U.S., on average: 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu; More than 200,000 people are hospitalized from seasonal flu complications and; about 23,500 (and as high as about 48,000) people die from seasonal flu. No matter how carefully you wash your hands, use antibacterial products, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and try not to touch door handles and other places where potential flu virus might thrive, Winter is prime time for the flu.
The best line of defense, so say the experts, is to get vaccinated against the flu virus before it strikes. This is particularly important if you’re very young or old, or your health has already been compromised in some way. Do ask your doctor if getting a flu shot is right for you. But if you do get the flu, the following top 5 flu etiquette tips, edited from a few suggestions by etiquette expert Anna Post might help save you, and someone else.
Keep your hands to yourself. Shaking hands when you meet someone, especially in business, is considered the polite way to greet someone. But during flu season, you might want to think twice about it. Anna Post suggests just making eye contact, smiling, and nodding your head saying: “It’s so nice to meet you.” That might work in semi-formal settings (e.g. she uses the example of going on cruises, where some ships request guests refrain from shaking hands to keep the spread of illness down). In the real world, if someone extends a hand, it seems only reasonable to shake it. But don’t touch your face until you’ve had a chance to wash your hands. That’s challenging since we often touch the face without even realizing it. When I had a broken hand that was pinned and in a cast, I couldn’t shake hands. I would hold out the cast and it was immediately evident. If you are extremely germ-phobic, you might tie a scarf around your hand, or wear a bandage –although keeping that up for an entire Winter, would be difficult.
Should you be on the ‘no fly’ list? Travel can be unavoidable, even when you’re sick, or worried about picking something up on the plane, train or bus. If staying home isn’t an option, Anna suggests that you wash your hands often and show fellow travelers you have their health in mind by bringing tissues and hand sanitizer on the flight. I have also asked to be re-seated on the rare occasion when my immediate seat mate is obviously, visibly sick. If there’s room, flight crews seem to be understanding. However, no matter how far you move from the sick person, you can’t really escape the fact that you are still trapped inside the plane with all those germs. On public transportation, move away from the sneezing person near you as soon as you can or wait for the next train/bus. Don’t touch your hands to your face until you wash them, after you’ve been riding on any public transportation. Keeping your gloves on might help some, but you should still refrain from touching your face.
Be prepared when out of town. The flu comes on fast and can sideline you for days. If you are experiencing a sudden onset of a fever, aches and chills, check in with your doctor before you leave for any trip. If you have the flu, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral flu medicine. If you can’t cut your trip short and are sick on the return trip, do your fellow passengers a favor and wear a mask.
The cold shoulder. When stuck in a tight, crowded space, turn away from others—or better yet, move away if you can—and cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue.
If you must, you must. Anna says (and I agree) that no one likes to be the etiquette police, and it’s tough to point out someone’s behavior mid-flight with hours left to go. However, flu is highly contagious. If you must say something, try, “I can see you’re not feeling well—would you mind covering your mouth when you cough? Thanks.” If you are truly germ phobic, carry an extra (sealed) facial mask and offer it to the sick person. Everyone will thank you. If you’re at work and you are really sick, especially if you cannot control your coughing, apologize. Excuse yourself from the meeting or a group work space, and if necessary, go home and get better.
The following are general flu etiquette tips from the Emily Post Institute, which are always good to remember:
Be proactive. Protect yourself from seasonal influenza by getting vaccinated every year.
Lend a helping hand. Keep hand sanitizer and tissues with you at all times. If you end up with a cougher or sneezer next to you, just ask them to protect others by offering a tissue or spritz of alcohol-based sanitizer. Kleenex, for example, has colorful pocket packs of tissues that have 15 2-ply tissues in each. No need to every be without (and tissues are good for so many other things when you’re “on the go” as well). You can find a good, pocket sized hand sanitzer for very little, such as Essence of Beauty for just $1.99 from CVS or a beautifully scented Crabtree & Evelyn’s Anti-Bac Moisturizing Gel, for just $5.00.
If you’re someone who must use all natural products, try HandSan hand sanitizer in a 60 ml plastic pump bottle, good for 150 applications. It costs just $5.99. and is supposedly the first alcohol-free, organic hand cleanser made from purified water and vitamins with no artificial colors or preservatives. It won’t dry out your hands but it will help kill germs. It’s even safe of toddlers and pets. HandSan is also certified organic by ECOCERT. It even has antioxidant bennies and vitamin K2. It isn’t luxe, but it will do the job, well.
Share space, not the flu. Flu is highly contagious. Covering sneezes and coughs is a good habit all year round, especially during flu season. The flu virus can spread up to six feet away from coughing, sneezing, or even just talking. Kleenex also has a new, “cool touch” box of unscented tissues ($2.19/50 3-ply) that especially soothe a sore nose, enhanced with cooling moisturizers and aloe. Your body heat activates the special ingredient in the tissue which creates a colling sensation on contact. These cost more than the bargain variety, but they’re a little bit of pampering. You can find boxes of Kleenex and the pocket packs in the facial products aisle of drug stores and mass market retailers nationwide – Visit www.kleenex.com for store locations and additional product information.
Hands down—the way to go. It’s classic good manners to keep your hands below your shoulders when in public. The idea is to avoid touching your face, which may also help keep you from getting sick after rubbing your nose, mouth or eyes with unclean hands.
Be informed and show concern. Flu may be treatable with prescription flu medicines. If someone near you is exhibiting signs of the flu – fever, aches, chills, tiredness – encourage them to see a doctor quickly. Don’t feel uncomfortable. Just tell them, “I’m worried about you. I think you should see a doctor.”
Tips for Saving on Medications: If you’re going to be miserable with a cold or flu, you might as well try to profit a bit from it. Teri Gault, the author of Shop Smart, Save More has some tips for saving money on medicines and other health and beauty aids. For prescription drugs, there’s no reason to do mail order, as lots of pharmacies have a great deal on generic drugs. Prescriptions in “walk-in” mass market retailers, and even supermarkets, can be significantly lower than anywhere by mail order, as they benefit from sales once people are in the stores. Teri suggests stocking up on cold remedies before you get sick, when they’re on sale (and/or you have a coupon). If you don’t have what you need on hand, do some advance research before you go to the store to buy something like cold medicine. There may be an online coupon you can print from the drug manufacturer’s website. She also likes coupons used for “stacking deals” (e.g. buy 1 get 1 free, or buy cold medicine, get 50% off tissues). She suggests choosing the smaller package to get it for free when on sale with a coupon (but not trial sizes). You’ll also find that the size with just 50 tablets, for example, is a nice size for purse or travel. Teri’s web site, TheGroceryGame.com, has a list of free coupons that are not just for health & beauty, but include these things. Teri says you shouldn’t ever throw away a drugstore receipt without looking at it. Many register rewards only require a one item purchase that can be used like cash on your next purchase, no minimum purchase required. *advicesisters tip: you can sign up at many drug stores for loyalty user cards that also work like register rewards.