Cooped Up by the Snowstorm: Tips on Avoiding Flu Virus When Caring for the Sick

Heres a few tips on avoiding the flu when stuck in the house with a sick family member.
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WATCH Mid-Atlantic Gets Pounded by Winter Storm

A massive snowstorm that is bearing down on the East Coast is arriving during the traditional peak of flu season, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines as between "December and February."

As the storm begins, many people will be stuck at home with family members or roommates who are battling the flu. If you think you're doomed to get sick, think again. We talked to experts about the best way to guard against getting infected even if you're sharing a home with the virus.

Keep Your Hands Clean

Dr. Frank Esper, infectious disease specialist at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, said the first tip is always to wash hands since "it’s how people interact with one another."

Esper said using "regular old soap" and water for at least 20 to 30 seconds is key, and that people should not worry about finding anti-microbial soap.

"Washing your hands with regular old soap and water or you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer," will work, Esper said. "If you do that, you are significantly reducing the chance of you getting sick or you transmitting a germ to someone else."

For those who are sick, they can also take basic steps to minimize the chance they'll infect others. Since influenza is airborne, it's key for people to cover their mouths when they sneeze and cough, Esper said.

"If you cover your cough, it will not spread as far," Esper told ABC News. "Don’t use your hands. Try to cough your into arm or elbow."

Isolate the Sick

Unsurprisingly, keeping sick people away from healthy people is a key point in stopping infection.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, said those caring for an infected individual should try to keep them in a separate room away from everyone who is healthy.

"The major way flu is transmitted is if I get within 3 feet of you and the flu-infected person breathes out and I breathe in," Schaffner told ABC News. "Keeping distance is very important. ... Put them in isolation, give them a computer, a smart phone and TV."

Since most people do not live in a bubble, Schaffner said it's key to wipe down exposed surfaces after a sick person visits the rest of the house.

"Wipe it down with a wet cloth or soap or any common household cleanser," to combat infection, Schaffner said.

Call Your Doctor About Possibly Getting an Antiviral

In the first 48 hours of getting flu symptoms, people can call their doctor to see if they recommend taking an antiviral, Schaffner said.

"It makes you likely to get better sooner and reduce the risk," of infecting others, he said.

He also advised drinking plenty of fluids to help get through the infection and stay healthy.

Esper said people at risk of serious complications due to being immuno-compromised or due to pre-existing conditions, can talk to their doctor about taking a prophylactic antiviral if they are exposed to an infected person.

Get Your Flu Shot

Getting the flu shot can be key to staying healthy during winter months when flu infections are at their highest. Although it takes the flu shot two weeks to start providing protection from the virus, Esper said he expects to see flu infections ramping up in the coming months.

"It's the early part of the flu season," Esper noted. "I would say the best way to prevent yourself from getting sick is getting the influenza vaccine. ... Trust me, flu season is here longer than two weeks."