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UMMC experts offer common-sense steps to avoid annual illness

Published on Tuesday, August 29, 2017

NOTE: This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of CONSULT, UMMC's monthly electronic newsletter. To have CONSULT, and more stories like this, delivered directly to your inbox, click here to subscribe.

Most health care providers agree on one flu fact: Getting immunized against it is the best medicine.

But that’s just one of the tools in the flu-prevention toolbox. Trying your best to avoid virus-laden germs is important, especially when multiple strains of flu means your vaccine might not cover the one coming your way.


It’s easy to catch the flu, but it’s also easy to get a flu shot, said Dr. Joy Akanji, nurse manager in the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Student/Employee Health Center.

“That is very, very important,” she said. “It helps your body prepare itself for the virus. When the flu comes around, it’s more likely that you’ll be strong enough to fight it off.”

Even if someone contracts the flu anyway, or comes down with the flu because he or she was exposed during the two-week period it takes for the vaccine to become fully effective, “it’s usually not as bad as if they hadn’t gotten the flu shot at all,” Akanji said.

There are other common-sense steps that help avert the flu and some other viruses, Akanji and national experts say. One of the top defenses: Keep your distance from people who are sneezing and coughing.

When a nearby person who has the flu coughs or sneezes – including in its early stages, when he or she might not know he or she is contagious – the wet droplets that spray out are contaminated with the flu virus.

“You need to move away,” Akanji said. “Even three feet from the person is very close. When someone coughs or sneezes around me, I hold my breath to avoid breathing in the germs.”

Simply touching a surface contaminated during the last eight hours by someone with the flu can transmit the virus. If it gets on your fingers, perhaps by shaking someone’s hand, and you make contact with your nose, mouth or eyes, it’s enough to give you a full-blown case.

“Wash your hands more often and use foam (disinfectant),” Akanji said. “You can buy the small germicides from a store. And wipe down surfaces much more frequently.”

And it’s never a good idea to drink from another person’s glass or container or to share cutlery or plates.

Especially during flu season, take those precautions and be sure to wash your dishes and utensils in hot, soapy water or in a dishwasher. Don’t clear them away with hand-used tissues; instead, use a plastic bag or other barrier to pick them up.

Even handling your own or someone else’s cell phone, or any door knob, can be risky. Many people are in constant contact with their phones, including when they are sick. They’re within close proximity to the eyes and mouth.

Cell phones can be 10 times more likely to carry germs than a toilet seat, according to the health website Live Science.

“Care should definitely be taken to wipe those cell phones down,” Akanji said. “If it’s possible, open doors with a tissue or paper towel, just like you would do in a bathroom. Use a paper towel to turn off the faucet after washing your hands and use a paper towel to open the bathroom door.”

Portrait of Dr. Joshua Mann

Keeping well overall can make the difference between getting the flu and staving it off, said Dr. Joshua Mann, professor and chair of the preventive medicine.

“Getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, eating a nutritious diet with fruits and vegetables – all of those things boost your immune system,” Mann said. “If you have a more functional immune system, it should help you avoid the flu.”

He also suggests getting the entire family immunized.

“A lot of times, children can become infected at school, and then bring it home,” he said.