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7 Ways Not To Get Swine Flu

Well, there's certainly a good chance you'll be exposed to the germs, according to the latest government statistics. A recent White House report predicts that as much as 20 to 40% of the population could experience swine flu symptoms, with more than half of cases seeking medical attention. But whether you get sick or spread the bug to others may be largely due to your health habits. Here are 7 simple health behaviors to keep you and your family free from the flu (swine or seasonal).
/ Source: Prevention

Well, there's certainly a good chance you'll be exposed to the germs, according to the latest government statistics. A recent White House report predicts that as much as 20 to 40% of the population could experience swine flu symptoms, with more than half of cases seeking medical attention. But whether you get sick or spread the bug to others may be largely due to your health habits. Here are 7 simple health behaviors to keep you and your family free from the flu (swine or seasonal).

1. Get a Vaccine
It's the single best way to not get sick, experts say.
"No matter how well you wash your hands, you still have to breathe," says Robert Belshe, MD, professor of medicine and pediatrics at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine and director of the vaccine center at Saint Louis University, which is conducting clinical trials for the swine flu vaccine. "If you breathe in flu aerosol particles — which are invisible and can travel as far as 10 feet — you'll likely catch the flu." That's why vaccines are so important: They prime your body to mount a flu-fighting response before you're even exposed.

Stay healthy all season long with these tips.

This year, you'll need two different flu vaccines: one for seasonal flu, and a separate one for swine flu. Everyone can get the seasonal flu vaccine, but the swine flu vaccine will be preferentially given first to the highest-risk groups as quantities roll out. The first 45 million doses will be available mid-October. The five groups with highest priority, according to Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease at the NIH, are:

*Pregnant women
* Caregivers of children less than 6 months old
* First responders and health care workers
* Healthy people ages 6 months to 24 years
* People ages 25 to 64 with underlying conditions like heart disease and asthma


**People ages 65 and older don't seem to be at increased risk of swine flu. Read why here.

Have your children vaccinated and get the shot as soon as you can based on your eligibility. Some states will provide the swine flu vaccine through schools or community clinics; it should also be available wherever you get the regular seasonal flu vaccine.

2. Be Obsessed with Hand Washing
It's one of the next best ways to keep flu germs at bay.
Even if you are exposed to swine flu (by using a germy pen at the post office, say), if you clean your hands before you touch your face, there's little chance the germs can reach your eyes, nose, or mouth, the usual ways they enter your system and start wreaking havoc. "Washing hands is enormously effective," says Wayne LaMorte, MD, a professor of epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health. One University of Michigan study found that regular hand washing can reduce respiratory illness transmission by more than 20%.

Two-thirds of people say they make an effort to cover their coughs and wash their hands more now that swine flu is circulating, according to a new American Red Cross poll. A good, solid number, sure, but it's still not 100%. The key is to make hand cleansing a habit. Aside from after a bathroom break, wash your hands with soap and water — or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer — before you eat, after being in crowded public places, like the mall, or if you've been near someone who's sneezing or coughing.

3. Take Flu Symptoms Seriously
Most people can weather the flu just fine. But there are exceptions.
About 70% of people hospitalized for swine flu had an underlying health condition, according to the most recent government data. For example: Asthma occurs in 8% of the US population, but 32% of people hospitalized for swine flu last spring had asthma. Pregnant women are 4 times more likely than the general population to be hospitalized for swine flu. People with underlying chronic conditions — especially diabetes or heart, liver, or kidney disease — are also more likely to face swine flu complications.

While you needn't be a hermit, if you do fall into any of these categories, watch for symptoms (most commonly fever, sore throat, cough, runny nose, sneezing, muscle aches, fatigue/exhaustion — and in some cases, diarrhea, headaches, and a stiff neck) and call your doctor if anything feels off. If you think you've been exposed to swine flu, it's also a good idea for those at high risk to call the doctor. Your physician may decide to give you antiviral medication (such as Tamiflu) preventively. These medications, which stop the flu virus from reproducing in your body, can be 70 to 90% effective at preventing the flu when administered this way, according to the CDC.

However, don't request preventive antivirals if you're not high risk. If they become too widely used, we may start to see widespread resistance to them, says Stephen Morse, MD, professor of clinical epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. For everyone else, most doctors won't start you on antivirals until you exhibit flu symptoms — and perhaps not even then. "If your case is mild, you don't need to take them," Morse says. "You'll recover almost as quickly without them."

4. Teach Your Children to Wash Well
It appears that kids in schools are the ground zero of swine flu spread.
Children ages 5 to 19 are responsible for the most transmission, according to a recent study in the journal Science. The probable victims: Their parents. "If a child contracts the flu, about 40 to 50% of her family will likely develop clinical flu symptoms," says LaMorte.

One problem is that kids don't wash their hands enough. For example, only 50% of middle and high school students say they wash their hands after using the restroom, according to research from the American Society of Microbiology, let alone before eating or after sharing school supplies with friends. "You don't want to make your kids neurotic," says Allison Aiello, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. But enforcing the importance of hand washing can protect your whole family this flu season and beyond.

Teach kids to lather up with soap and water after using the bathroom, after sneezing or coughing, and before every meal and snack. (Stash a bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer in their backpacks; it's a good substitute if they can't get to a sink.) If the kids are doing a group project and share materials, tell them to wash afterward. Finally, show your child the right way to sneeze: into a tissue, ideally, or into his sleeve — not his hands.

Watch out for these top 10 worst germ spots. 5. Stop Nibbling Your Nails
You're basically inviting swine flu or other germs to infect you.
No matter how anal you are about hand washing, let's face it — you can't park yourself in front of a sink or use hand sanitizer 24-7. That's where the avoid-unnecessarily-touching-your-face rule comes in. "Rubbing your eyes or biting your cuticles can increase viral transmission," says Aiello. In doing so, you give germs a more direct route to your mouth and nose, where they enter your body and start making you sick.

6. Keep Your Cube Clean
When was the last time you wiped down your desk or disinfected your phone?
Chances are you don't remember. About 41% of office workers say they rarely or never disinfect their desks, according to a new survey from Clorox in consultation with Corporate Wellness, Inc. To add to the ick factor, that's despite the fact that two-thirds of people say they eat lunch at their desks at least once or twice a week. If your unclean desk harbors germs, you can pick them up (and get sick) while shuffling papers or answering the phone — and especially when you lunch right on top of them. To play it safer this flu season, University of Arizona microbiologist Charles Gerba, PhD, recommends that you use disinfectant spray or wipes. Schedule a standing reminder in your Outlook calendar to wipe down your desk after you eat.

7. Be Your Healthiest Self
The last piece of the swine flu prevention puzzle: Make sure your immune system is firing on all cylinders.
Scientists are still learning exactly how and which healthy habits bolster immunity, but there's clearly some solid evidence for adopting — and avoiding — certain behaviors. One good-for-you habit is sleep. A recent Carnegie Mellon study found that sleeping 8 hours a night (instead of 7 or fewer) can make you 30% less likely to develop a cold — a sign that sleep plays an important immune-boosting role. A well-balanced diet, full of these power nutrients, may help fortify your immune system too. And avoid these unhealthy habits, such as smoking or letting stress get the better of you, which have been linked to decreased immunity.

More Swine Flu Safety tips: Flu Myths That Can Make You Seriously Sick
More Links:
25 Foods That Can Save Your Health
Surprising Signs Your Immunity Needs a Boost
Biggest Myths About Swine Flu — Busted!
Top 10 Worst Things For Your Immune System