As with any contagious illness, minimizing your chances of introducing bacteria or a virus to your system is key in staying well. "Good hygiene is the best and first line of defense against any type of cold or flu," says Norman H. Edelman, MD, chief medical officer for the American Lung Association. "This includes frequent hand washing and covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing."
The American Lung Association advises that hand washing is most effective with liquid soap. Rub hands vigorously under running water (of any temperature) for at least 20 seconds -- long enough to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice.
Make sure you dry your hands completely before touching anything, especially in public places. Use the paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the door of the bathroom on your way out.
If soap and water is not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Keep a small bottle in your purse, car and your child's backpack.
Dr Edelman says to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. "This is one way in which germs are easily spread," he warns.
"Avoiding close contact with sick people is another key line of defense," says Dr Edelman. Be aware of flu symptoms so that you can take precautionary measures if illness occurs. The H1N1 swine flu presents symptoms similar to seasonal flu, such as fever, lethargy, lack of appetite, coughing, body aches and pains, and has not been reported to be any more severe than the common flu. Instruct your children to avoid anyone with symptoms of any illness.
The American Lung Association says to stay home if you're experiencing mild symptoms to avoid spreading illness — whether it is the swine flu or another bug. See a doctor if your symptoms are more severe, particularly if you have traveled to Mexico or have been in contact with someone who has recently returned from the region.
Though there is currently no vaccine for the H1N1 swine flu virus, the American Lung Association recommends getting your annual influenza vaccination.
Taking steps to avoid the H1N1 swine flu should be a top priority for you and your family. After all, practicing good hygiene is a beneficial lifelong habit to have, pandemics or not. And don't panic: There are treatments available if you or a family member does happen to get the swine flu. The Centers for Disease Control has confirmed that anti-viral drugs such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) are effective against the H1N1 swine flu.
Stephen J Nolan, the American Lung Association's national board chair, suggests learning as much as you can about ways to avoid the H1N1 swine flu. "We are closely following this rapidly developing issue and have assembled information and resources on our website to help the public stay informed and to learn how to best protect themselves while preventing the spread of infection," he says. You'll also find more information at the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention website.
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