RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—About a week after we first learned about the H1N1 virus, or swine flu, more than a dozen countries have reported more than 300 confirmed cases. While cases in the United States have been relatively mild, and officials said Friday the flu is showing signs of tapering off in some places, it’s important we all continue to take steps to protect ourselves. And as it turns out, the best protection tips are things we’ve all heard before…usually from our mothers.
1. Know when to use a sick day. If you’re not feeling well, stay home so you don’t spread a possible viral infection. Swine flu symptoms are the same as the regular flu—fever, lethargy, sore throat, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. If you experience flu-like symptoms, contact your doctor. Initial studies show that antiviral medications do work against the swine flu, says Mary Klotman, MD, chief of the division of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. But in most of the current U.S. cases so far, patients recovered without the drugs.
2. Scrub-a-dub-dub those hands. A standard practice for flu prevention pertains to the swine flu, too: Wash your hands often with warm, soapy water. You may not even realize you’re doing it, but touching the so-called T-zone—your mouth, eyes, and nose—can give the virus a chance to enter your body. So avoid touching your face, but keep your hands clean in case you accidentally (perhaps inevitably) touch it anyway.
Here’s the best way to wash your hands:
• Remember the three main components: warm water, soap, and friction.
• Wet your hands with very warm running water. “Not hot enough to burn you, but very warm,” suggests germ expert Donna Duberg, MA, MS, assistant professor of clinical laboratory science at Saint Louis University in Missouri. “Use lots of soap so that there is a good lather.”
• Add soap and rub hands vigorously for 20 seconds. “If hands are visibly dirty, wash them to get the dirt and grime off, rinse, and then wash with soap again to help remove any germs that are still on the skin,” Duberg says.
• Time it out for kids. If you have little ones, get them washing to a song like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” “The ABC Song,” or “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Or introduce them to Henry the Hand, champion handwasher.
• Wash all surfaces. That including the back of hands, between fingers, the tips of fingers, and under your fingernails.
• Rinse, keeping your fingers pointed down.
• Dry vigorously with paper or a clean cloth towel. If someone in your house already has a flu infection, it’s best to use paper towels and toss the used paper in the trash (look for a brand made from recycled material).
• Use a towel to turn off the faucet and open the door. If you want to post a reminder by your bathroom sink, you can print out a free hand-washing poster.
3. Keep surfaces clean. Viruses are generally not as hardy as bacteria, so good, routine cleaning with soap and water or disinfecting wipes should keep their numbers down, says Duberg. “If a person has the flu, consider using a 10-percent vinegar and water solution, or 10-percent bleach and water spray, especially on bathroom surfaces and faucets,” she says. “And be conscientious in wiping off door handles, door frames, faucets, and any other surfaces family members touch using the solutions, or disinfecting wipes.” We prefer the vinegar mix—it’s more environmentally friendly—but if you use bleach, only mix what you need at the time. The bleach potion loses its ability to kill germs once it’s been sitting around for a few hours.