October 7, 2020

Survey results suggest 75 percent of parents leave the house with the flu — and they’re spreading it to others.


Along with the cold weather, the flu season is a upon us in Middle Tennessee. Yet those who are coughing and plagued with aches and chills aren’t staying home. Instead, they’re often out putting the rest of us at risk. A survey released by CityMD shows that parents and millennials are the biggest offenders with 75 percent of parents and 76 percent of millennials surveyed saying they left the house with the flu. They’re heading everywhere from the gym to the ATM, but about 40 percent go to work, 43 percent invade the grocery store, and nearly 70 percent make a trip to the pharmacy.

We asked William Schaffner, M.D., professor of Preventive Medicine and Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, to weigh in on the importance of staying home while sick and what we can all do to protect ourselves.

Why do we need to stay home when we have the flu?

“None of us wants to be a dreaded spreader,” Schaffner said. “People should stay home, take care and keep themselves removed from those around them when they have the flu and other winter respiratory viruses because, frankly, close contact is the way that viruses spread from one person to another.”

Typically, viruses like the flu can spread within a six-foot radius. The virus can be exhaled from your body and then inhaled by someone who is in what Schaffner refers to as “the breathing zone.” We also touch each other and items like door handles, railings and countertops while out in public. If you’re sick with the flu, the virus gets on the tips of your fingers and all the things you touch. “Someone else may touch their own nose or mouth, and then bingo,” Schaffner said.

What if you need to leave the house?

If you need something from the store or pharmacy, look for alternative ways to get it. Maybe a friend or family member can get it for you, you can order through a delivery service, or you can use the drive-through window. “From time to time, the person who is sniffling and sneezing has to go out and do it themselves,” Schaffner acknowledged. “Keep your trip as brief as possible. Use those wipes or the gels that will keep your hands clean and sanitary, and take plenty of tissues with you so that if you are coughing, sneezing or sniffling, you can do it into the tissue.”

What is good cough or sneeze etiquette?

Whether you’re at home with roommates or family members or you have to run out in public briefly, make sure you take precautions when coughing or sneezing to prevent your germs from spreading. “You don’t want to broadcast a cough or sneeze in a room,” Schaffner said. The first line of defense is to use a tissue, but if you’re caught empty-handed, he recommends coughing into the crook of your elbow.

What else can I do to protect others if I’m sick?

If you suspect you have the flu, Schaffner recommends calling your healthcare provider and getting a prescription for an antiviral like Tamiflu. This is especially important if you have any underlying illnesses that can lead to complications with the flu. Antiviral medication can shorten the duration and lessen symptom severity. “If we take that antiviral, we’re also less likely to give the flu to someone else,” Schaffner added.

How can I protect myself from catching the flu?

Get the flu vaccine. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone in the United States older than 6 months get vaccinated each year. “That offers you protection and makes it less likely that you will share the flu virus with others,” Schaffer said. In addition, wash your hands frequently and thoroughly and do your best to steer clear of people who are coughing and sneezing.

Learn more

Vanderbilt Health operates a variety of walk-in clinics in Middle Tennessee, including some with Williamson Medical Center, to take care of everything from sprains and sport injuries to flu shots, fevers, coughs and rashes. Search locations and learn more about the conditions treated there.

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