Avoid Spreading The Flu & Ease Symptoms Naturally With These Tips

Written by Kayleigh Roberts
Kayleigh Roberts is a freelance writer and editor who received her B.S. in Journalism from Northwestern University. Her writing covers topics ranging from entertainment to health and has been featured in Marie Claire, Elle and The Atlantic.

Image by Michela Ravasio / Stocksy

So you got the flu—it happens to the best of us. As bad as the excess snot, body aches, fever, and chills are, however, one of the worst things about the flu is the guilt that comes along with feeling like patient zero among your friends, family, or co-workers. To ease your flu symptoms and avoid spreading the virus to everyone you come into contact with, here's everything you need to know.

How does the flu spread?

Just like most coughs and colds, flu viruses are spread by person-to-person contact, or person-to-object contact, specifically when you touch something that contains droplets of respiratory fluid (think: the sputum that flies out of the mouth and nose when we cough and sneeze).

Some of the ways this virus-laden sputum can be passed from person to person are pretty obvious, like kissing or sharing beverages. It doesn't take that kind of obvious contact to spread the flu, however. Just touching something with the virus on it (e.g., shaking hands with someone who has the flu or touching a doorknob they recently touched) and then touching your own mouth, nose, or eyes can spread the infection.

So, whether you're a flu carrier or flu avoider, it's vital that you wash your hands regularly throughout flu season to minimize the risk of spreading the disease. When is flu season, exactly? October to March, but it generally peaks from December to February.

Another way the flu spreads is through the air. "The virus can spread to others up to 6 feet away through droplets in the air just by breathing and also through coughing or sneezing," Robin Berzin, M.D., functional medicine physician and founder of Parsley Health, told mbg.

How long can I spread the flu?

Adults with the flu can be contagious before they even realize they're sick, which only underscores the importance of vigilant hand-washing during flu season. Your contagious period for spreading the flu could begin as early as 24 hours before the appearance of flu symptoms and continue up to a week after you become sick. (Flu symptoms can include fever, chills, runny nose, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, fatigue, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.) This contagious period can last even longer for kids or people with weakened immune systems such as the elderly, with some acting as carriers for several weeks. That being said, you're most contagious with the flu during the first three to four days after you begin feeling sick.

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Is there a way to tell if I'm contagious?

The best way to judge if you’re still contagious is timing. Because symptoms of the flu typically begin about two days after the virus enters the body (but could appear anytime between one and four days after infection begins), you should be particularly careful during your first week of symptoms. Meaning, stay home from work or school, if possible, and be careful to avoid direct contact with other people.

In rare cases, people can be infected with the flu and spread it to other people without experiencing any symptoms themselves—so there's not always a surefire way to know if you're contagious with the flu.

Should I get a flu vaccine?

If you're worried about coming down with or spreading the flu, consider getting the flu vaccine. The CDC recommends that everyone who is six months or older (and who doesn't have a history of bad reactions to the vaccine) get a flu vaccination, and many experts agree that it's most important for people over 65 or who have chronic health conditions. There are several types of flu vaccine, and the kind you need depends on factors like your age and preferred delivery method. Talk to your doctor about what's right for you.

That said, even if you've gotten the flu shot, you're not immune to contracting the flu. According to Dr. Berzin, recent studies show the flu shot reduces the risk of flu by 40 to 60 percent when the vaccine virus is closely matched to the circulating virus—but some years, the vaccine may only reduce risk by around 30 percent or less. Even in a good year, that leaves a large margin for illness, so protecting yourself in other ways is vital.

How do you treat the flu?

If you think you might be coming down with the flu, it's a good idea to schedule an appointment with your doctor. And "if you have a fever above 102 degrees F, are unable to keep down liquids, or are in respiratory distress, visit your doctor or the emergency room," advises Dr. Berzin.

If you have the flu, your doctor will likely prescribe you antiviral drugs, like Tamiflu, which can relieve symptoms, shorten the duration of the illness by a day or two, and prevent serious complications, like pneumonia. Aside from that, Dr. Berzin shares some natural remedies that can help combat flu symptoms:

  • Get plenty of rest. Snagging some extra sleep can actually help you bounce back from the flu by facilitating an immune response that helps you recover faster, research shows.
  • Drink up. Hydration will ensure that your kidneys have enough water to eliminate waste and fluids and keep other processes in your body running normally, allowing your natural defenses to take over. Hot liquids, like broth or herbal tea, will help to loosen mucus, too.
  • Eat healing foods. Fresh ginger has been shown to have antiviral properties, while turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatoryBerries are another good source of inflammation-fighting compounds. In general, stick to whole, nutrient-rich foods.
  • Consider supplements. For immune support, Berzin recommends vitamins D3 and K2, along with buffered vitamin C, which has antiviral properties, especially against the flu during early stages.

Ready to learn more about how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE web class with nutrition expert Kelly LeVeque.

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