How can I keep from getting the H1N1 flu (swine flu)?

Flu viruses spread from person to person mainly through coughing or sneezing by a sick person. Flu viruses may also be spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with the virus and then touches his eyes, nose, or mouth. H1N1 flu is often referred to as swine flu because the virus that causes it is similar to one found in pigs. However, the H1N1 virus is also similar to other flu viruses found in birds and humans, and it cannot be contracted through eating or handling pork products. Health officials believe that H1N1 flu spreads the same way as other flu viruses.

A vaccine to protect against H1N1 flu is now available. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more information about the H1N1 flu vaccine.

Some simple everyday actions can help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses like H1N1 flu. Parents can set a good example by doing these things themselves:

  • Teach children to wash their hands frequently with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. (See “What is the best technique for washing my hands?” below.)

  • Teach children to cough and sneeze into a tissue or into the inside of their elbow, rather than into their hands.

  • Teach children to stay at least 6 feet away from people who are ill.

  • Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds, and other so-called social distancing measures. In communities where H1N1 flu has occurred, avoid shopping malls, movie theaters, or other places where large groups of people may gather.

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What is the best technique for washing my hands to avoid getting the flu?

Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. The CDC and other health experts recommend washing hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds (about as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice through).

If soap and water are not available, alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers may be used. You can find them in most supermarkets and drugstores. If using gel, rub your hands until the gel is dry. The gel doesn't need water to work; the alcohol in it kills the germs on your hands.

What if my child comes in contact with someone who has H1N1 flu?

Call the pediatrician to see whether your child should receive antiviral medication.

What preparations should I take in case a family member becomes ill?

Be prepared in case a family member becomes sick and needs to stay home for a week or so; a supply of over-the-counter medicines, alcohol-based hand rubs, tissues, and other related items might be useful and can help avoid the need for a sick family member to make trips in public while still contagious.

What should I do if my child has flu symptoms?

Take your child to the pediatrician if you think she may have H1N1 flu or any other flu. In children, symptoms of H1N1 flu are similar to those of the common flu. Children may have a fever, cough, chills, body aches, headache, fatigue, and, occasionally, vomiting and diarrhea. Young children may have difficulty breathing and be lethargic.

Seek emergency care if your child is breathing fast or having trouble breathing, is not drinking fluids, is not waking up or interacting, doesn’t want to be held, or is not urinating. Other warning signs include bluish or grayish skin color or showing symptoms that improve but then return with a more severe cough and fever.

What is the treatment for H1N1 flu?

Keep your sick child well-hydrated, rested, and as comfortable as possible. Follow your pediatrician’s recommendations for medicine to ease symptoms. Do not give aspirin to children who may be ill with the flu.

What is the best way to keep from spreading the virus?

If you are sick, limit contact with other people as much as possible. Sick children should stay home from school or day care until they have been free of fever for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medicines. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing; it can help prevent those around you from getting sick. Put your used tissue in the wastebasket. If you don’t have a tissue, you should still cover your cough or sneeze with your hands. Then, wash your hands well and do so each time you cough or sneeze.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention