Swine Flu: 10 Things Not to Do

Why you should nix swine flu parties, and other swine flu don'ts.

From the WebMD Archives

Swine flu (H1N1) has been in the news since it first appeared this spring, and while there have been deaths and hospitalizations in countries worldwide, most cases have been relatively mild. And now, there is an H1N1 swine flu vaccine, too.

That's the good news. But the bad news is, swine flu can still be serious, and it's still widespread.

With that in mind, here are 10 swine flu "don'ts" -- things not to do for swine flu prevention.

1. Don't expect seasonal flu vaccination to prevent swine flu.

The seasonal flu vaccine doesn't protect against swine flu. The H1N1 swine flu vaccine is a separate vaccination.

Your best bet is to get both vaccines. Seasonal flu can be serious, especially for infants, elders, and people with weak immune systems. The CDC notes that seasonal flu or its complications kill an average of 36,000 people per year in the U.S. and hospitalize more than 200,000 people.

Getting vaccinated each year against seasonal flu is the single best way to protect against seasonal flu, according to the CDC.

2. Don't count on a face mask to prevent swine flu infection.

According to the CDC, it's not clear how effective face masks are at preventing the transmission of the H1N1 or seasonal influenza viruses. The same is true for N95 respirators worn snugly over the face as filters.

The CDC doesn't recommend face masks or respirators in most settings to avoid catching swine flu, except if you're at high risk of severe illness from influenza and are caring for someone who has a flu-like illness, or for high-risk people who can't avoid being in a crowded setting where the swine flu virus is present.

But the CDC does recommend that sick people wear a face mask to avoid spreading their illness if they must be in close contact with other people. However, don't rely on a face mask as your only protection -- you still need to take other swine flu prevention steps:

  • Wash your hands often.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • If you've got flu-like symptoms, avoid others until you've been free of fever for 24 hours.
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from people with flu-like illness.

If you do wear a face mask, don't reuse it. Face masks should be worn once and then thrown out.

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3. Don't hold or attend a swine flu party.

The guest of honor at a swine flu party is someone who's got swine flu. The point is for other guests to catch the virus in the hopes that they'll have a mild illness and gain immunity so that they won't get sick if the H1N1 virus worsens.

That's a bad idea, according to the CDC, because there's no way to know whether swine flu will be severe or fatal in swine flu party guests -- or anyone else that they, in turn, infect.

4. Don't neglect planning.

One of the CDC's golden rules for dealing with swine flu is for sick people to stay home. That means planning ahead in case you or someone in your family gets sick.

As WebMD reported in early August, the CDC wants schools to try to stay open, but sick children should stay home. The CDC has also issued guidelines for colleges, universities, and businesses on how to deal with swine flu.

Workers may want to look into how their company handles sick leave or time off to care for someone with swine flu. And you might also want to stock up on tissues, disinfectants, and soap or alcohol-based hand sanitizers for work and home.

5. Don't forget to clean up.

Flu viruses can linger on books, toys, countertops, doorknobs, phones, linens, eating utensils, and other objects. Use a household disinfectant, following the directions on the products' label.

The CDC recommends that when you launder linens of someone who has the flu, don’t hug the laundry before washing it, and set the clothes dryer to the hot setting. Wash your hands with soap and water (or use an alcohol-based hand gel) immediately after handling dirty laundry.

6. Don't get complacent.

Don't shrug off swine flu precautions. Here are the CDC's tips for reducing swine flu infection:

  • Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze. Use a tissue or your arm -- not your hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Or use an alcohol-based hand cleaner.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Stay home if you are sick until at least 24 hours after you have been free of fever of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or more, or signs of fever, without using fever-reducing medicines.

The U.K.'s National Health System notes that when someone sick with flu talks, sneezes, spits, or coughs, infected flu droplets can travel at least 1 meter (about 3.3. feet). The NHS recommends that when you use a tissue, you throw it out after one use.

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7. Don't panic.

Although there is no reason to panic, there is good reason to get vaccinated and seek prompt medical care for flu symptoms if you're in a high-risk group. People who are high priorities for H1N1 vaccination are:

  • Pregnant women
  • People who live with or care for children younger than 6 months of age
  • Health care and emergency medical services personnel
  • People between the ages of 6 months and 24 years
  • People ages 25-64 who have chronic health conditions or weak immune systems

8. Don't leave home if you've got flu-like symptoms.

Those symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue; diarrhea and vomiting may also be symptoms of swine flu.

Unless you're going to get medical care, stay home to avoid infecting others. That means not going to work or school, not running your normal errands, and not traveling. By staying home, you'll help prevent other people from getting sick.

How long do you need to stay home? The CDC recommends waiting until at least 24 hours after you are free of fever of 100 degrees Fahrenheit, or signs of fever, without taking fever-reducing medicines.

9. Don't rush to the emergency room unless you have certain symptoms.

The CDC urges people to seek emergency medical care for a sick child with any of these symptoms:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish or gray skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and cough

And here is the CDC's list of symptoms that should trigger emergency medical care for adults:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough

Having a high fever for more than three days is another danger sign, according to the WHO.

10. If you're a parent, don't forget to teach your kids swine flu prevention.

Children need to do the same things as adults -- stay home when sick, avoid sick people, cough and sneeze into a tissue, and wash their hands.

The CDC recommends teaching kids to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice while washing their hands with soap and water, so that they wash their hands for 20 seconds. Another CDC suggestion: Tell kids to stay at least 6 feet away from people who are sick.

Those pointers also work for grown-ups.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on July 06, 2009

Sources

SOURCES: 

CDC: "Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine."

CDC: "Interim Recommendations for Facemask and Respirator Use to Reduce Novel Influenza A(H1N1) Virus Transmission." 

CDC: "Novel H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu) and You."

CDC:" General Business and Workplace Guidance for the Prevention of Novel Influenza A(H1N1) Flu in Workers."

National Health System: "Alert: Important Information About Swine Flu."

National Health System: "Swine Flu Information."

World Health Organization: "Influenza A(H1N1): Lessons Learned and Preparedness."

CDC: "What to Do If You Get Flu-Like Symptoms: Emergency Warning Signs."

CDC: "Advice for Parents on Talking to Children About Novel H1N1 Flu (Formerly Swine Flu) Concerns." 

World Health Organization: "Behavioral Interventions for Reducing the Transmission and Impact of Influenza A(H1N1) Virus: A Framework for Communication Strategies."

WebMD Health News: " CDC: Keep Schools Open If Swine Flu Hits."

WebMD Health News: " New Swine Flu Guidelines for Colleges, Work."

WebMD Feature: " Can a Mask Prevent Swine Flu?"

CDC: "Questions and Answers: 2009 H1N1 Recommendations."

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