One of the most effective ways to protect you, your family and friends from influenza is to practise good personal hygiene.
See the five simple ways listed below to prevent the spread of influenza.
In this section:
Help stop the spread of flu
1. Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough
The flu virus can travel through the air when a person coughs or sneezes. When you cough or sneeze you should:
- Turn away from other people
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve
- Use disposable tissues rather than a handkerchief (which could store the virus)
- Put used tissues into the nearest bin, rather than a pocket or handbag
- Wash your hands, or use an alcohol hand rub, as soon as possible afterwards.
- People who are sick should always be encouraged to wear a surgical mask to contain the virus and help prevent its spread.
2. Wash your hands
Washing your hands regularly with soap and water or using an alcohol-based product (gels, rinses, foams - available at supermarkets and pharmacies) that does not require water - even when they aren't visibly dirty - is effective in killing the flu virus.
Always wash your hands:
- after you've been to the toilet
- after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose
- after being in contact with someone who has a cold or flu
- before touching your eyes, nose or mouth
- before preparing food and eating.
3. Don't share personal items
The flu virus can spread when someone touches an object with the virus on it and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth.
If a member of your household has the flu:
- keep personal items, such as towels, bedding and toothbrushes separate
- do not share eating and drinking utensils, food or drinks.
4. Clean surfaces
Flu viruses can live on surfaces for several hours. If a member of your household has the flu, you should regularly clean surfaces such as tables, benches, fridge doors and door knobs with soap and water or detergent.
5. Avoid close contact with others if you are unwell with flu
- Keep your distance from others by standing or sitting back (at least one metre apart, where possible) will help reduce the chances of spreading the flu virus between people.
- While you are unwell you should remain at home and avoid going out in public.
- If you are unwell, you should not go to work or school or attend other public or crowded gatherings, and avoid taking public transport.
- If you need to use public transport, it is recommended that you wear a mask to contain the virus.
- Do not visit people who have the flu unless it is absolutely necessary.
- If a member of your household has the flu, he or she should be separated from other members of the family if possible, and be encouraged to wear a surgical mask.
- If you are caring for someone who has the flu, you too should wear a mask and gloves when in close contact to protect yourself from catching the flu.
- Antivirals and vaccines may have some effectiveness in preventing the development of infection in people exposed to the influenza virus.
Personal protective equipment
- If a pandemic becomes widespread in the community, authorities may encourage people who are not sick to wear a mask or other covering for the nose and mouth to help protect them from catching the virus.
- Its particularly important for people who are sneezing or coughing to also wear a mask if possible to prevent the spread of infection to others.
- If you run a business or community organisation, you might want to take proactive measures to help stop the spread of infection by providing tissues and 'no-touch' bins, soap or alcohol-based products for your clients, and post up signs to remind people about good hygiene practices.
Preparing your household
There are several things you can do now that will help you be prepared, should a pandemic occur:
- Have plans in place for if you and your family have to stay at home for a week or so during a pandemic. Talk to your family and friends about this.
- If you live alone; are a single parent of young children; or are the only person caring for a frail or disabled person, think of someone you could call upon for help if you become very ill with the flu. Discuss with the person what help you might need and how that could best be provided.
- Think of someone you could call on to care for your children if their school or daycare centre were to close during a pandemic but you still had to go to work. Discuss this with them
- Have a telephone network for you and the people who live close by
- Put the phone number of your family doctor and your state or territory health information line in a prominent place
- Think of someone who could help you with food and other supplies if you and your family were sick and could not leave the house
- Teach children about hand washing and cough etiquette
- Think about supplies you might need in a pandemic.
- Emergency survival kit checklist for households (Australian Government)
- Emergency Management Australia (Australian Government)
- Emergency pantry list for households (Food Industry Working Group)