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Avoid a ‘flu’ Christmas with healthy practices

By Linda Breazeale
MSU Ag Communications

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Flu concerns during the winter holidays are not new this year, but the highly contagious novel H1N1 flu strain increases the importance of healthy practices to avoid the spread of germs.

Jane Clary, health specialist with Mississippi State University’s Extension Service, said visits to and from loved ones from other regions can hasten influenza’s progress across the country and the globe. Mass transit, shopping malls and other places with large numbers of people also can increase the rate of infections in a community.

“This strain of pandemic influenza may be more contagious than seasonal flu, and many people will not have any immunity to this virus strain,” she said. “Pandemics have occurred in the past, but never at a time when people are this mobile, and that’s especially true during the holidays. Transcontinental travel has never been more common.”

Tips from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are available at http://www.flu.gov to help travelers during this holiday season. The No. 1 tip is to avoid traveling with flu symptoms, which include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Additional symptoms include diarrhea and vomiting.

The Web site recommends that people with the flu delay travel until they have been fever-free for 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing medications. Additionally, the site encourages people to consider their health insurance plan when traveling overseas.

The health specialist said the first line of defense for the flu is prevention. Wash hands often, especially after coughing or sneezing or after coming in contact with other people or frequently touched surfaces.

“When someone is sick, even with just a cold or allergy, they should cover their noses and mouths with a tissue when sneezing or coughing, and throw the tissue away afterward,” Clary said. “Anyone with the flu should stay home from work, school or events, and avoid exposing family members at home.”

During the current pandemic, limiting exposure to people with the flu can be nearly impossible, especially when someone in the same household has the flu. It can be even harder to avoid spreading the flu outside the home since people can be contagious 24 hours before they realize they are sick.

“It is hard to cancel much-anticipated holiday visits, but sharing flu germs is not the best way to celebrate,” she said. “When people can’t avoid someone with the flu, they should closely follow medical recommendations on how to limit exposure to the virus.”

Some of those recommendations include avoiding touching the eyes, nose or mouth. If caring for an infected family member, wash hands frequently and consider wearing a mask and medical gloves. Frequently disinfect surfaces potentially exposed to the flu virus, such as doorknobs, eating utensils, toothbrushes, clothing, bed sheets and telephones.

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Released: Nov. 5, 2009
Contact: Jane Clary, (662) 325-5014