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National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention

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Stopping the Spread of Pandemic Flu

It is important to limit the spread of flu viruses during a pandemic. The flu is spread through coughs and sneezes, and hands that are not cleaned.

Taking these steps can keep you and others healthy:

Get vaccinated

Getting a flu shot or the nasal spray each year is the best way to protect yourself from seasonal flu.

Veterans enrolled in VA health care may get a free flu shot at their nearest VA health care facility. Not yet enrolled? Check your eligibility online.

Stay home when sick

This is important to do so you keep from spreading flu viruses to other people. You can spread the flu from about one day before symptoms start to five days or more after they are present. So stay home from work and school when you are sick. Learn how to treat flu.

Know when to seek medical care

How do you know when it might be best to stay home, call a nurse advice line or your health care provider, or go for medical help? Take VA's easy and useful flu self assessment or download a flu self assessment flowchart. (573 KB, PDF)

Take antiviral medicines if prescribed

Antivirals are medicines used to treat pandemic flu and must be prescribed by your healthcare provider.

Taking antiviral medicine may shorten the time when you are contagious (able to spread pandemic flu to others) and might allow you to feel better more quickly. If you are taking antiviral medicine for pandemic flu, talk to your healthcare provider about when to return to work.

Keep your distance

Avoiding large crowds, public gatherings, or unnecessary contact with others will help to keep the spread of flu viruses under control. Have children limit their contact with others.

Clean your hands

Keep hands clean to avoid spreading flu viruses. Wash with soap and water before:

  • preparing or eating food
  • after using the bathroom or changing a diaper
  • when caring for someone who is sick
  • after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • after handling trash and other objects
  • after treating a wound

Learn more about hand cleaning.

Cover your coughs and sneezes

This is always important, but especially so during pandemic flu. Use clean tissues to cover all coughs and sneezes, and put your used tissue into a wastebasket. Wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol hand rub. When you don’t have a tissue available, cough or sneeze into your upper arm sleeve.

Use personal protective equipment (PPE)

During a pandemic both patients and staff may be asked to wear masks. Patients might be asked to wear masks to prevent spreading the virus.

Health care workers might be asked to wear respirators and other equipment to protect themselves from being exposed to the flu virus. The Health and Medicine Division (HMD) (formally known as the Institute of Medicine) of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a report which sets forth recommendations for effective PPE use in an influenza pandemic. Read the report, Preventing Transmission of Pandemic Influenza and other Viral Respiratory Diseases: Personal Protective Equipment for Healthcare Personnel, Update 2010.

Stay healthy

Take good care of yourself to minimize the impact of pandemic flu. Eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, get a flu shot every year, and practice good hygiene including regular hand washing. These practices can help you remain healthy so your body can be strong.

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