Make sure to pass only the turkey, not the flu

Purdue University photo Libby Richards, associate professor of nursing at Purdue University

No one wants a serving of the flu for Thanksgiving.

But with millions of Americans traveling to visit family and friends, and flu activity increasing in some parts of the country, there is a chance someone in your family could share the flu bug when passing the mashed potatoes or cranberry sauce at dinner.

There are some simple steps to protect you and your loved ones from the flu during the holiday, says Libby Richards, an associate professor of nursing who specializes in public health in Purdue University’s School of Nursing.

“If you are sick or a family member or friend you are planning on having Thanksgiving with is sick with the flu or influenza-like illnesses, you should avoid contact,” Richards says. “Give everyone space, get rest and celebrate when everyone is feeling better. Don’t visit until the symptoms have resolved.”

Richards adds that it’s important to keep in mind that babies and older adults are more susceptible to flu and complications.

“With a new baby in the home, all visitors should be vaccinated, preferably two weeks before the visit,” Richards says. “Parents should not feel guilty about limiting people who visit. If any family member is actively sick or showing symptoms, they need to stay home as that person can be contagious for up to seven days.”

If you get the flu while traveling, Richards recommends treating your symptoms as you would at home: rest, hydrate and limit contact with others. One can use over-the-counter medications, and you should contact your health care provider or seek treatment at an urgent care facility if symptoms get worse.

Richards says people should be reminded to wash their hands before eating. Other tips include keeping a bottle of antibacterial hand gel near common gathering places and using paper towels in the bathroom instead of a regular cotton towel.

“Second to vaccination, frequent and appropriate handwashing is key for prevention,” Richards says. “You should disinfect hard surfaces such as phones, doorknobs, light switches and remote controls often, especially if you are hosting.”

Influenza updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that several states are seeing increasing activity in flu and influenza-like illnesses.

— Matthew Oates, Purdue University News Service

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