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If you can't fend it off, prepare to ride it out
A swine flu primer

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Date published: 10/4/2009

BY JANET MARSHALL

Whether it's the new H1N1 flu or seasonal flu, you want to avoid it. And if you catch it, you want to recover fast. Here's a guide to getting through flu season, based on information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other medical sources.

TRY TO PREVENT IT

Wash your hands a lot--and not just a quick rinse. Scrub and soak for as long as it takes you to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice.

Any soap will do, and if you aren't near a sink, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can do the job. Use the singing method with the sanitizer, too, to make sure you've thoroughly cleaned your hands.

Keep your house clean, especially kitchen and bathroom surfaces and children's toys.

Strongly consider getting the H1N1 (aka, swine) flu vaccine when it becomes available--probably by mid-October--as well as the seasonal flu vaccine. (See Dr. Christopher Lillis' column for more vaccine details.)

If you're caring for a sick person, wear a mask and/or keep your distance as much as possible. Avoid being face-to-face. If possible, have the sick person stay in one room of the house, using his or her own towels and bathroom.

Remind children to cough into their elbows. And if you're holding a sick child, try to get him or her to cough into your shoulder, not your face.

Avoid touching your eyes, mouth or nose--most people do it multiple times an hour, greatly upping their risk of becoming infected.

Finally, don't share utensils, and don't drink from someone else's glass.

SIGNS OF SICKNESS

Fever is a big sign that you've caught the flu. It's what generally separates the common cold from the flu-- that and the sudden onset of misery. So, have a thermometer handy so you can check your temperature.

Other flu symptoms include cough, sore throat, headache, chills, fatigue, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches and vomiting or diarrhea.

In general, if you have a fever plus one or more of these symptoms, you probably have the flu. You don't need to rush to the doctor, unless you have complications, an underlying health problem or experience certain scary symptoms--read on for details about that.

WHEN YOU'RE SICK

Over-the-counter cold and flu medicines can lessen your symptoms. But check the ingredient labels to be sure you don't double up on acetaminophen or ibuprofen.


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