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Dick's House offers flu prevention tips

First on the list: wash your hands

The Dartmouth College Health Service is promoting healthy habits this fall and winter to prevent the flu in the wake of a national shortage of flu vaccine.

"We don't want people to be anxious about not having a flu shot," said Laura Rubinstein, Coordinator of Health Programs at Dick's House. "There are plenty of ways to stay healthy using some common sense precautions against getting the flu."

She suggests a few simple ways to lessen the spread of germs and avoid illness:

  • Wash your hands often, using hot water and soap.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Avoid touching your nose, eyes or mouth.
  • Keep stress at a minimum.
  • Don't share cups, water bottles, mouth guards, etc.
  • Cough into your arm, not your hand.
  • Sneeze into a tissue.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink moderately.

According to Rubinstein, flu is contagious, and it's different from a cold in that flu symptoms are much more pronounced. The flu can develop quickly, and it tends to last longer than a cold. Symptoms include a sore throat, nasal congestion, body aches and fever. She recommends over-the-counter medications for mild flu symptoms, like a stuffy nose or a headache, and because the flu is caused by a virus, she said an antibiotic isn't an effective treatment.

"It's time to call your primary care doctor if your fever is over 103, you have sinus pain or earaches, you are wheezing or have shortness of breath, or if you have a severe headache," Rubinstein said.

Charlene Bradley, the Director of the Nursing Department at Dick's House, says that normally, most of the severe symptoms of flu should subside in three to five days, although mild symptoms may linger longer. She also adds that people may be contagious to others beginning one day before they start feeling ill and continuing for up to seven days after getting sick.

"Because the virus is airborne and spread by droplets, people should be sure to cover their mouths when coughing. It is best to use disposable tissues to wipe away secretions rather than a cloth handkerchief. And, the easiest way to prevent spread of germs is to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website has further information about the flu and ways to prevent it at www.cdc.gov/flu.

By SUSAN KNAPP

Questions or comments about this article? We welcome your feedback.

Last Updated: 12/17/08