How to Prevent and Treat the Flu

And how to politely (but effectively) tell someone to cover his sneeze.

Sick woman at work drinking coffee or tea
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What do you know about the flu? Maybe you recall (with a shudder), The Fever Week of '98 that kept you home for a week, or in 2010, when your kid got sick, and of course, so did you. If you've had the flu, it may be hard to forget the fever and fatigue that bulldozed you into submission, but after all that unpleasantness, what did you learn?

Although the thought of getting the flu is terrifying to many, a recent survey from the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases found that folks still misunderstand flu treatment and prevention. For example, nearly 90 percent of the 1,000 adults surveyed incorrectly believe hand-washing is the best way to protect against the flu, when in fact that honor goes to getting the flu vaccine. Forty-five percent of those surveyed think the flu vaccine can give you the flu (not true!), and 42 percent don't realize there are prescription antiviral medicines available to treat the flu. No wonder we're getting sick.

So here they are – the facts on how to prevent and treat the flu, along with tips for speaking up to virus-spreaders from etiquette expert Anna Post, great-great-granddaughter of etiquette guru Emily Post and coauthor of the 18th edition of "Emily Post's Etiquette."

Get the flu vaccine. No, it's not too late to get vaccinated, but you ought to do it soon. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deem an annual flu vaccine as the best way to protect yourself and others from the virus. And whatever excuse you have for skipping the vaccine – like the tried-and-absolutely-untrue notion that you can get the flu from it – we've debunked your reasons.

Know the flu symptoms. By recognizing flu symptoms and how they differ from those of a common cold, you're more likely to get treatment quickly for yourself or family members and stay home from work to prevent spreading it to your healthy co-workers. According to the CDC, flu sufferers may deal with fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, achiness, fatigue or headaches – or worse yet, a combination of all these delights.

[Read: Top Recommended Cough, Cold and Allergy Medicines.]

With the flu, these symptoms will typically strike suddenly, as opposed to the slow progress of a cold. However, only 37 percent of respondents in the NFID survey correctly identified this sudden onset of sickness as a flu indicator.

Make preventative habits. A word to the wise: While recognizing flu symptoms is important, remember that the flu is contagious before symptoms start  – a fact that more than 40 percent of folks in the NFID survey didn't know. So even if you're feeling fine, build healthy habits to prevent spreading germs. Sneeze, blow your nose and cough into a tissue that you immediately pitch; no hoarding hankies in your pocket. No tissues?

Sneeze and cough into the inside of your elbow. If you're feeling sick, stay home! Don't be a hero by coming into work, Post says, because you may make colleagues ill and decrease your team's productivity. (Borrow this point when telling your boss about a sick day or asking to work from home.) Pass on other engagements when you're under the weather, too.

Wash your hands often. While yes, of course you know how to wash your hands, here's a reminder from the CDC of how to do it the right way: Wet your hands with clean water; lather them with soap (don't forget under the nails); scrub them thoroughly for 20 seconds (the length of about two happy birthday songs beginning to end); then rinse and pat down with a clean towel or air dry.

[Read: Top Recommended Antibacterial Soaps.]

Other habits to build include disinfecting germ hotspots, such as countertops and grocery cart handles, and being mindful of touching your eyes, nose and mouth – do you really want to pick your teeth after pressing that elevator button?

Speak up. While you may be a beacon of hand-washing and sneezing perfection, don't expect others to try as hard. Post says it's totally fine to speak up to the hacking co-worker a cubicle over or the reckless sneezer sitting beside you on the plane.