THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

How it's spread, how to protect yourself

By Bina Venkataraman
Globe Correspondent / April 30, 2009
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Q. How do people catch the swine flu?

A. Public health officials believe the swine influenza A (H1N1) virus is spreading the way that the seasonal flu spreads every year - when people infected with the flu cough or sneeze and others breathe in airborne droplets containing the virus. People may also be getting swine flu from touching surfaces such as doorknobs contaminated with the virus, then touching their face or mouth. Infected people can spread the flu before they have symptoms, as well as while they are sick.

Q. How can I protect myself and my family?

A. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water. Also, you should get plenty of sleep, exercise, manage your stress, eat healthy food, and drink plenty of water. Avoid close interactions with people who are sick and try not to touch surfaces that could be contaminated with the virus. Avoid touching your nose, eyes, or mouth.

Q. Does hand sanitizer work if I can't wash my hands?

A. Doctors advise using sanitizing wipes and alcohol-based gels when you do not have access to soap, water, and a sink. If you use a gel, rub your hands until it dries.

Q. What are the symptoms of swine flu?

A. They are similar to symptoms of the regular seasonal flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. Some people who have gotten the swine flu have had diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.

Q. What should I do if I get sick?

A. If you are sick with flu symptoms, stay home from work or school and limit contact with others. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and wash your hands after each time you cough or sneeze. If you are sick and have traveled to or live in areas where swine flu cases have been identified, you may want to contact your primary care provider for advice about possible treatment or testing. Two antiviral drugs, Tamiflu and Relenza, can reduce the severity and duration of illness from swine flu only if taken within two days of symptoms appearing. (The drugs are not known to be effective if taken as a precaution before getting ill.)

SOURCES: US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and medical professionals.

For more information, visit the CDC swine flu website, www.cdc.gov/swineflu/; or the World Health Organization site, www.who.int/csr/disease/avian_influenza/phase/en/index.html. Bina Venkataraman can be reached at bina@globe.com.

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