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Topics > Healthy Outlook > Lessons Learned From Swine Flu Are Useful For All Flu

Lessons Learned From Swine Flu Are Useful For All Flu

Published by Contra Costa Times

Posted on Wed., May 20, 2009
By Francie Wise, RN, MPH

The new H1N1 virus—also known as swine flu—is thankfully less severe than initially feared. Apparently, fewer people in Mexico died of the new H1N1 virus than originally thought. So, the death rate is similar to regular seasonal flu. But, like all flu, it is still potentially very dangerous.

How to avoid getting and spreading the flu:

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth—even if you just washed your hands. Like seasonal flu, the new H1N1 virus can live for two hours or more on surfaces, including doorknobs and faucet handles.
  • Wash your hands often by rubbing wet, soapy hands together for at least 15 seconds, and using a towel to turn off the faucet. Regular soap is just as effective as "anti-bacterial" soap.
  • Alcohol-based hand cleaners, with at least 60 percent alcohol, kill germs even more effectively than soap and water. Rub about one-half of a teaspoon of the cleaner all over each hand until dry.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick, and avoid crowded areas with known cases of the new H1N1 virus. A person who has the flu can be contagious one day before he or she got sick and for seven or more days after first getting sick.
  • Wearing a mask is most helpful if worn by someone who has the flu in order to prevent giving it to others. Wearing a mask to avoid getting the flu is less effective, unless it is a fitted N95 mask.
  • Last season's flu vaccine does not protect you from the new H1N1.
  • If you get sick, stay home from work or school and minimize contact with others. Cough and sneeze into your sleeve. If using a tissue, cover your mouth and nose, and throw away the tissue. Then immediately wash your hands. Symptoms of the new H1N1 virus are similar to seasonal flu—fever (100.0 degrees or higher), cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue.

Should you stay home or go to the doctor if you have these symptoms?

Most generally healthy people should stay home, if they can drink and keep down liquids, are not persistently short of breath and feel normally alert.

On the other hand, certain high-risk groups should receive treatment for flu symptoms quickly, even before H1N1 has been identified as the cause of their illness.

The following six groups should see a doctor quickly if they have flu symptoms:

  • Children, ages 4 and younger. Severe complications are highest for children under 2.
  • Pregnant women.
  • Adults, ages 65 years and older.
  • People with serious chronic conditions, including asthma, COPD, heart disease (except high blood pressure), kidney disease, liver disease, blood disease (including sickle cell disease) and diabetes.
  • People, ages 18 and younger, who are on chronic aspirin therapy.
  • Residents of nursing homes and similar facilities.

Antiviral drugs are effective against this virus. Tamiflu (oseltamivir) comes as a pill or syrup, and Relenza (zanamivir) comes as a mouth spray.

If you become ill with flu-like symptoms, contact your doctor or advice nurse. For updates, visit or

Francie Wise is the director of communicable disease programs for Contra Costa Public Health.

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