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How to Protect Others When Someone Has Flu

flu prevention tips

Someone in the house has been diagnosed with the flu. This places others in the household, especially close contacts (those within six feet of the sick person), at risk for developing an influenza infection as well. While providing basic care, home caregivers of a person with the flu can protect themselves and others from unnecessary exposure to the influenza virus, may benefit from anti-viral prophylactic treatment, and can use sanitary practices that may lessen the spread of flu germs.

Are People in the Household High Risk for Flu Complications?

People who are high risk for complications of the flu should contact their healthcare provider regarding whether or not to obtain anti-viral treatment if they are in close contact with someone diagnosed with the flu.

High risk groups for serious complications from the flu include, but are not limited to, those who are:
  • 65 years old and older
  • Pregnant or are within two weeks of an ended pregnancy
  • Diagnosed with a chronic illness such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease
  • Young children, especially younger than two but children up to age four may be higher risk than older children
  • Receiving treatments that decrease immunity, such as certain cancer treatments

If possible, people who are at high risk for complications from the flu should avoid exposure to people who have flu-like symptoms. If the primary caregiver in the home is in a high-risk category, ideally another caregiver should be designated to care for the person with flu symptoms. If another caregiver is not an option, try to limit exposure as much as possible.

Many people who are in high-risk categories are encouraged to get the flu shot, and people in their household may also be encouraged to get the influenza vaccine whether or not the high-risk person is eligible for the shot, but the vaccine will not help someone who has already developed flu-like symptoms. People who get the seasonal influenza shot and/or the H1N1 (swine) flu shot can still get the flu.

How to Help Prevent the Spread of Flu in the Home

Below are some ways to protect others in the household if someone has the flu, if possible:
Tips for seeking the advice of a healthcare professional include:
  • Others in the home may contact their healthcare provider or a flu hotline to see if they should obtain a prescription for anti-viral medications, whether or not they are in a high risk category for flu complications.
  • If others in the home begin to have flu-like symptoms, they should contact a healthcare provider or flu hotline.

Tips for limiting exposure to the flu virus include:
  • Avoid close contact with the sick person by having that person stay in a separate room with a separate bathroom, if possible.
  • Encourage visitors to call rather than to visit in person.
  • Have the ill person or others in the same room wear face masks.
  • Designate one person, preferably someone that is not high risk for complications, to care for the sick person.
  • Avoid having a sick person to care for those who are high risk for complications of the flu, such as infants or elderly members of the household.
  • Have all persons in the household cover their coughs or sneezes with their inner arm. People who are carrying small children who are coughing and/or sneezing may protect themselves by carrying the child with his chin on the caregiver’s shoulder.

Cleaning tips in the home when someone has the flu include:
  • Wash hands appropriately and frequently. For more information on handwashing, see the article entitled Washing Hands Saves Lives.
  • Consider using paper towels rather than cloth towels during the infectious phase.
  • Ensure that all disposable items, such as tissues, used by the infected person are put in the trash after use.
  • Keep surfaces and other items in the home as clean as possible by disinfecting them per manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Common eating utensils should be washed before another person uses them.
  • Dirty linens should be handled carefully and washed with laundry detergent and dried on a hot setting. Readers may wish to read How to Make a Bed With Someone in It.

Protecting Others When Someone Has the Flu at Home


When someone in a household is diagnosed with the flu, others are at risk for developing influenza as well. Other contacts within the home, especially those at risk for serious complications of the flu, can use these guidelines to help protect themselves and others from getting the flu as well. No preventive measures will guarantee that others will not get the flu, but these guidelines may help lessen the flu symptoms of close contacts if they do get the viral infection as well.

Although the source listed below is geared toward H1N1 or swine flu, many of the suggestions above can help if someone in the household has seasonal flu as well.

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History of Vick's VapoRub

vick's vaporub

At the beginning of the 1900s, popular treatments for colds were poultices and messy plasters. These were typically the same forms of mustard and mint products that had been used for over 5000 years.

These products were applied on the chest and forehead, but due to the abrasiveness of the compounds, they often caused rashes and/or blisters. This was due is a large part because their main ingredients were skin irritants. The other prescribed method to cure a cold was to inhale hot herbal vapors. While this method was very successful in curing colds, it could also cause severe burns if children or patients placed their faces too close to the steam.

Who is Lunsford Richardson?

Lunsford Richardson, a druggist from Selma, North Carolina, was one of several druggists who sought a product that would provide relief without the drawbacks of the plasters and poultices. Two events occurred that led him to the perfect product. The first was the use of petroleum jelly as a safe base for salves and cosmetics. The second was the discovery of menthol, a crystalline alcohol extract from peppermint which released a vapor capable of giving sinus relief.

Ben-Gay and the Connection to Vick's

Menthol had been used by consumers as far back as 1898 when it was introduced in a product called Ben-Gay. This product, which was invented by Jules Bengue, combined menthol with an analgesic pain reliever in a base of lanolin. The innovative product was promoted as a cure for rheumatoid arthritis, gout and even help with a head cold.

Richardson studied the testimonials on Ben-Gay and started mixing different ingredients together in his drugstore. He finally stumbled upon using menthol with other ingredients in a base of petroleum jelly. He named his new product, Richardson’s Croup and Pneumonia Cure Salve. When rubbed onto the chest, the chemicals opened up sinus passages while they increase blood circulation. After its introduction, jars of the product flew off the shelves. Richardson could barely keep up with orders for customers and other druggists.

His only problem was the long, involved name of the product. He felt he needed a catchier moniker and turned to his brother-in-law, a doctor named Joshua Vick. Because it had been in Vick’s laboratory that Richardson had experimented to create a new product he changed the popular products name in honor of his mentor. Vick’s VapoRub was born, the year was 1905.

The Way Vick's Changed the U.S. Post Office

Although the product was selling and Richardson was having difficulty keeping up with orders, he still went on a huge advertising campaign to promote his product. He advertised in newspapers and supplied coupons for a free trial size jar of the product. He also had the ingenious idea to persuade the U.S. Post Office to allow him to provide samples to “Boxholders,” a precursor of today’s “occupant.” Before this time, all mail had to have a name listed on the package and/or letter.

All of this provided great sales for VapoRub, but it was the flu epidemic of 1918 that sent sales soaring through the roof. In the spring, U.S. troops carried the virus to France and then Spain. The flu took so many lives in Spain that it soon became known as the “Spanish Flu.”

The Flu Kills Millions

The flu soon traveled to China and on to Russia where it became even more virulent. During that year the flu killed one half of one percent of the entire population of the United States. To put it in even easier terms to visualize, World War I had taken four years to claim the lives of nine million soldiers. The 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic killed 25 million people, making it the worst plague in history.

It goes without saying that the flu that year drove the need for any type of cold medicine up. Cough syrups, cough drops, decongestants and even ASPIRIN® were bought for every household. These drug sales, especially Vick’s VapoRub, set new industry records. In 1918, Vick’s sold over a million dollars' worth of product. That is 1918 dollars, which was unprecedented until that time. While Vick’s is still very popular today and widely touted as the best cure for sinus and chest colds, it was the flu epidemic of 1918 that put a jar in every home. Mysteriously the flu that claimed so many lives vanished in 1919.

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