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Protect your family from the H1N1 swine flu

Abbi Perets lives in Houston, TX, with her husband and five children.






Pandemic not "panic"

It's official: The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared an H1N1 flu pandemic. But what does that mean? What's changed? Is there anything you can do to keep your family safe and healthy? Is there any reason to panic?

Swine Flu

The headlines are terrifying: The swine flu is "unstoppable." We're in the midst of "the first flu pandemic of the 21st century." Governments and citizens are being warned to "maintain vigilance." And the school nurse just called and told you your child has a fever of 101.7 F.

Know the facts

You hear the word "pandemic," and your instinct is to panic. Fight that urge. "Pandemic" simply means that worldwide, the number of people with the disease is higher than normal. So, more people than usual have the flu right now.

In other words, yes, it's slightly more likely that you'll come into contact with someone who has the virus, but that doesn't automatically up your risk factor. You're probably at the most risk if you have a pre-existing medical condition -- such as pregnancy or an illness that has weakened your immune system. Children and the elderly also are at increased risk.

Remember, though, that increased risk doesn't mean you're going to get the flu. It also doesn't mean that you're going to die if you get it. So keep your emotions in check, and stay calm.

SheKnows has already talked to the experts about what parents can do to prevent the spread of H1N1, so take some time to familiarize yourself with what you should do.

Understand what we're facing

If you start searching the Internet for "flu pandemic," you'll scare yourself silly. But you'll do so needlessly. Most of that information is generalized. It was on the Internet well before the current flu outbreak, and it discusses "what if" scenarios based on a theoretical pandemic of an unknown flu strain.

We've already identified this particular strain, so the only information that's currently relevant is information specific to H1N1. You also want to ensure that the information you're reading is accurate -- so maybe your hairdresser isn't the best source. Instead, learn more by visiting the websites of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the government's website on pandemic flu, and the WHO.

All of these sites are updating regularly and have the most relevant information. And none of them advocate panicking.

What now?

Once you've crossed panic off your list, what should you do? Follow normal flu season protocols -- but really follow them closely. Wash your hands like it's your new religion. Carry hand sanitizer in your bag so you can use it whenever you need it.

Make everyone around you wash their hands, too -- particularly health care providers. If you take your child to the doctor, it is perfectly acceptable to say, "Can you show Johnny how you wash your hands? We're making a big thing about that right now."

If you're taking care of a sick child, wash your hands before and after every encounter. Yes, this means you'll be washing your hands a lot. You'll survive. Keep a close eye on sick kids, and if your mommy radar goes off, call the doctor right away.

Keep yourself and your spouse healthy. Eat well, drink plenty of fluids, and get enough rest. Keep your immune system in top shape.

If you are in a high-risk category -- you're pregnant or have an immune system disorder -- talk to your doctor now. She may have additional protocols in place.

We live in the modern world, and we have access to phenomenal health care, so avail yourself of it if necessary. Just keep everything in perspective -- and this crisis, too, shall pass.

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