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Flu etiquette

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

You love to get together with friends and family, but as you plan a party there’s one guest you definitely do not want on your list - flu.

You might even have considered cancelling the event because of fear of this contagious virus. However, our flu etiquette experts say that, if you're still going about your regular business - going to work, to the cinema, theatre and other social outings there is no reason to cancel your plans.

We need to put it into context. If your community is in the middle of a flu outbreak, you should think carefully about mixing with crowds. In general, however, some planning and simple flu avoidance measures can help keep unwelcome germs from spoiling the party.

Planning your flu-free party

An ounce of prevention is always best. If you fall into any of the groups for whom vaccination is recommended, contact your doctor to arrange this. Follow the tips for preventing flu. The advice from the Department of Health is to:

  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, using a tissue
  • Throw the tissue away quickly and carefully
  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water
  • Clean hard surfaces (like door handles and remote controls) frequently with a normal cleaning product

Let your friends and family members know that you'd prefer that they do not come to your party if they are ill. However, be diplomatic. A dash of humour can smooth over a potentially awkward request. On your invitation, consider adding a line such as, "Healthy guests only, please RSVP to ..... or "Flu? We'll send you a party bag”.

Saying goodbye graciously to an unwelcome guest

Some guests may not heed your warnings, and will arrive at your doorstep dressed in their finest flu germs. As host, it is your responsibility to steer them back home, but do so in a manner that shows you are only concerned about their well-being.

You might say something like: "Sarah, I would only say this to a friend, but you look awful and you really need to go home." Send your friend home with a box of tissues and a hot drink, and promise to check in on her later. They might be a little offended at first, but hopefully, they'll understand.

Greeting your guests

Hugs, kisses, and handshakes are wonderful ways to say hello and show that you are happy to see your guests. But, these expressions of welcome are also wonderful ways for flu virus particles to be spread. As a result, many people are now avoiding close social contact. It’s just common sense. However, it’s probably best to offer some sort of explanation if you don’t want to cause offence.

Should you beware of the mistletoe? Debrett’s, Britain’s authority on etiquette, points to expert advice that says kissing lightly on the cheek is more hygienic than shaking hands.

If you do shake hands, a discreet handwash after contact is advisable. And try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth after contact, because doing so could spread infection.

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