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Published on January 21, 2013

What to Do When a Family Member Has the Flu

As you’ve no doubt heard – or maybe experienced – the flu this season is especially harsh, hitting people hard and laying them low for as long as a week at a time. Admonitions to get your flu shot are everywhere, and there’s a tiny bit of hysteria in the air.

The fear is that the flu is easily transmitted from person to person; the more you come in contact with someone who has the flu, the more likely you are to get it yourself. And assuming you’re even a little bit social, or have a job or go to school, you’re very possibly going to get exposed to the influenza virus.

And what if someone in your house has the flu – what can you possibly do then? Is everyone in the family doomed to get the flu?

“We certainly see it run in families,” said Bill Warning, M.D., a Crozer-Keystone Health Network primary care physician and program director of the Crozer-Keystone Family Medicine Residency Program. “We think about it very seriously and ask our patients who is in their family. We talk to them about not making the flu a family affair, so to speak.”

Warning says people tend to underestimate how the serious the flu can be.

“When doctors say ‘the flu’ we mean influenza, which is a really severe virus that can be deadly for people with various risk factors. This strain [we’re seeing this year] can make the elderly or children very sick.”

Warning advises families to take “flu etiquette very seriously.

“It begins with simple things [like] washing your hands, both for people with the illness and people without the illness. Everything [a sick person] eats and drinks out of goes right in the dishwasher; there should be no sharing drinks or foods. Any time you cough or sneeze you should do it into your sleeve, not your hand. And the refrigerator handle should be wiped down regularly. And doorknobs too.”

And while it might not be a cutting edge fashion statement, Warning is big on wearing a mask, especially if you’re gathered in the living room, watching TV with the rest of the family.

“We give people the masks to take home. They feel silly sitting there with a blue mask on but quite frankly they’re protecting their other family members. People should wear a mask if they’re in proximity – say within six feet – of other people.”

Warning says that people who have the flu or who know that they’ve been exposed to it should take precautions if they’re going to be around people who could be at risk – young children, the elderly, or someone with a chronic illness. If you work in a medical facility or a nursing home, or are going to visit a friend in a nursing home, here’s some simple advice – don’t go!

For more information, visit Crozer-Keystone's Flu Information Center. To learn more about Crozer-Keystone Health System, visit www.crozerkeystone.org or call 1-800-CK-HEALTH (1-800-254-3258). To find a physician who’s right for you, visit Find a Provider or call 1-800-CK-HEALTH (1-800-254-3258).

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