The best way to prevent serious respiratory infections such as pneumonia is to avoid sick people (if possible), and to practice good hygiene. [See In-Depth Report #94: Colds and influenza.]
Good Hygiene and Preventing Transmission
Colds and flu are spread primarily from infected people who cough or sneeze. A very common method for transmitting a cold is by shaking hands. Research has found that washing hands frequently can prevent the spread of viral respiratory illnesses. Always wash your hands before eating and after going outside. Using ordinary soap is sufficient. Alcohol-based gels are also effective for everyday use, and may even kill cold viruses. If extreme hygiene is required, use alcohol-based rinses.
Antibacterial soaps add little protection, particularly against viruses. In fact, one study suggested that common liquid dishwashing soaps are up to 100 times more effective than antibacterial soaps in killing respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Wiping surfaces with a solution that contains one part bleach to 10 parts water is very effective at killing viruses.
Changing Hospital Practices
Bacteria abound in hospitals and long-term care facilities, and are particularly able to cause disease in areas with the sickest patients, such as intensive care units. Health care facilities are changing many of their practices and educating physicians, nurses, and therapists on how to reduce the likelihood of transmitting bacteria.
Viral Influenza Vaccines (Flu Shot)
Review Date: 04/13/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.