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Swine Flu: Don't Be Scared - Be Prepared

Worried about H1N1 flu (aka "swine flu")? At the moment, it's not a serious threat to most people and symptoms are no different from regular flu. But even regular flu is no fun. Fortunately, with flu, a little preparation — and prevention — can go a long way in protecting your health.

Here are things you can do.

Protect Yourself — and Others

  • Wash your hands with plenty of soap and warm water for 15 to 20 seconds, especially at key times like after being around people who are sick or before eating.
  • Carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with you and use it often.
  • Avoid touching your face — especially your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you sneeze or cough, and wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer afterward. Sneeze or cough into your sleeve if you don't have a tissue handy.
  • Throw tissues away immediately after using them — don't leave them lying around.
  • Stay home if you're sick.
  • Stand 6 feet or more away from other people if they're sick or have been around others who are.
  • On the bus (or in a car), sit near an open window.
  • Get plenty of sleep, exercise, and eat healthy foods to keep your immune system strong — now's the time to be sure you get your five servings a day!

Watch Dr. John Clarke's PSA for the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services for tips on how to protect yourself.

Get the Swine Flu Vaccine

The H1N1 ("swine flu") vaccine is different from the regular flu shot. So for maximum protection against the flu, you'll need to get both the 2009 H1N1 shot and the regular seasonal flu shot. (People who have a severe egg allergy should not get either type of flu vaccine.) If you don't like shots, ask your doctor about getting the nasal spray vaccine. Some teens can only get the shot, though.

It takes a couple of weeks after getting a flu vaccine to build up immunity, which is why doctors recommend getting flu shots early in the season.

You can get both shots (or one shot and one nasal spray vaccine) on the same day. But people who get both the swine flu and seasonal vaccines in nasal spray form will need to get them on different days.

Why get vaccinated? Swine flu has affected kids and teens more than seasonal flu does. There's also a chance the virus could mutate and become stronger this winter. So experts recommend that all teens get the vaccine when it becomes available.

Stock Up on Supplies

If a lot of people get sick this winter, demand for supplies will be high. You don't want to run out of things like hand sanitizer or cough drops!

To be sure you have everything you need to both prevent and treat flu, stock up on these items:

  • alcohol-based hand sanitizers/wipes
  • medicines for pain and fever like acetaminophen and ibuprofen (but never aspirin!)
  • aspirin-free medications to help with stomach discomfort
  • cough drops
  • cough medicine
  • tissues
  • some of your favorite drinks like sports drinks, healthy juices

There is medicine you can take if you get H1N1 flu, but it usually just makes symptoms a little milder. Plus, a doctor needs to prescribe this kind of antiviral medicine. So, do what you can on your own to protect yourself so you don't miss out on the fun things — like parties or sports events — that you've been looking forward to all year.

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: September 2009