Washing away the flu

Since my oldest daughter started going to daycare I’ve tried to be careful about doing things that would reduce the risk of catching the endless stream of colds and viruses that she brought home. Last spring when my wife was pregnant with our second child and swine flu hit, I became even more obsessive about hand washing and other basic precautions to prevent the spread through our household.

It turns out that those basic precautions can reduce transmission of disease within households, according to a report from the New York Department of Health.

Check out my colleague Sandy Bauers’ report on that study that will appear in Monday’s Health & Science section:

The advice has been clear: If you have the flu, stay home. The world will appreciate it.
But, uh, what about the rest of the family or housemates?

Parents who care for sick family members are at increased risk of getting the flu, as are siblings who watch TV and play video games with them.

Luckily, stalling H1N1 can be as simple as having a household discussion about hand-washing, covering your mouth when coughing, and minimizing the time spent with the person who is sick. Researchers at the New York Department of Health report in the April issue of the Journal of Infectious Diseases that this could reduce the flu risk by 40 percent.

They based their study on an assessment of the 2009 flu outbreak in a New York City high school, where 11.3 percent of family members also reported flulike symptoms.

“This is important because it indicates that behavioral changes can be effective in decreasing the risk for secondary illness within a household,” said Anne Marie France, a health department physician.