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H1N1 spread depends on personal care, sanitation

Dave Cunningham of the SEUHD shows off one kind of surgical mask that can be worn to help ward off illness during the upcoming flu season.

Sun Advocate publisher

Because the H1N1 flu is already starting to run rampant on certain college campuses across the country, it will only be a matter of time before the virus strikes the general population, too. This fall, some schools have reported high numbers of students who are already infected. For instance, Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, reported that 2,500 students have approached health officials concerning flu-like symptoms since the beginning of school late last month.

Schools, public, private and in higher education, have been gearing up for this problem for some time. But, because of the relative mildness of the outbreak last spring, the general populace has been somewhat complacent.

However, the time for such complacency has ended. As the regular flu season begins and the H1N1 arises as a threat, it will be another virus for business and society in general to contend with. "One of the keys to keeping the numbers down on this [flu] is social distancing," said Southeastern Utah Health Department Manager, Dave Cunningham, during a meeting last week. "The best thing to do to keep the virus from spreading is to keep your distance from people. And if someone has something communicable, that person should be isolated from others so they can't spread it."

Obviously, the world wouldn't work too well if everyone stayed home and hid until the danger was over. So, the Center for Disease Control has listed steps for people to take to help keep the spread of H1N1 down, and for that matter, to help lower the incidence of regular flu as well. Standards apply here; things most everyone has learned to do since they were little kids.

When coughing and sneezing, cover the nose with a sleeve or a tissue. If a tissue is used, throw it away after it has been used.

Hand washing, using generous amounts of soap and water, should be very regular, particularly if one coughs or sneezes. Using alcohol-based hand cleaners can also be very effective.

If one comes down with flu-like symptoms, the CDC advises people to stay at home and avoid contact with people. Stay home for 24 hours after the fever naturally ends (not based on medications).

"Last spring, information was going around that you had to stay away from others for seven days after the fever," said Cunningham. "That has been revised down to 24 hours now."

Experience from last spring's illnesses showed that some groups were more susceptible to H1N1 than others. And some groups within that group will also be affected more than others. Groups that can be affected more drastically include children under five years old, women who are pregnant and people who have chronic health problems (any age). Chronic problems include asthma, diabetes, or heart disease. Anyone over 65 years of age is also at greater risk.

However, seasonal flu will also be raising its head during the next few months as well. How can people tell the difference? In H1N1, the disease starts with a fever, then proceeds with a sore throat and then a cough. People get sick very fast. The disease is also accompanied by severe body aches.

There is a test, but, this fall, only a small minority of people will be tested for H1N1; just enough to get the prevalence numbers set so health officials can determine how the disease in proceeding.

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