Back to School: Protecting Your Child from Swine Flu

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As school gets underway in some states, parents are wondering whether or not their children are at risk for swine flu. In recent days, there’s been an increased awareness that there is a possibility of another swine flu outbreak this fall and winter, and parents in particular want to know what they can do to keep their kids and themselves healthy. Many health experts, including those in the government, estimate that up to half the U.S. population could be affected by swine flu.

Swine Flu vs. Regular Flu

Most parents are well aware of the regular flu from seasons past. However, there are some key differences between it and the swine flu. First of all, a regular flu vaccination will not protect against the swine flu. Current flu vaccines do not affect the H1N1 virus that causes the swine flu. Swine flu is spread from person to person through contact and by inhaling airborne germs, much like the regular flu.

Many of the symptoms of swine flu are similar to those of regular flu. Headaches, fever, cough, muscle soreness and congestion are symptoms of swine flu. However, diarrhea and vomiting are usually associated with swine flu more often than with the regular flu. For the most part, swine flu symptoms recede in five to seven days. The main concern with swine flu—and what makes it potentially deadly—is that the body isn’t used to dealing with it.

Children under the age of five are especially vulnerable to the H1N1 virus, as are pregnant women and those with health problems.

Teenagers and senior citizens also have heightened vulnerability to swine flu.

Protecting Your Children Against Swine Flu

The Centers for Disease Control recommend a commonsense approach to protecting yourself from the swine flu: Wash your hands often. There is no need to send children to school in masks. But you should coach them in proper hand-washing procedures, and try to encourage them to avoid physical contact with others. If your children have flu symptoms, you should definitely them home from school.

Other ways to limit your exposure to and prevent the spreading of swine flu include:

  • Avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes.
  • Use a paper towel on door handles.
  • Practice good health habits, such as getting enough sleep, eating well and drinking plenty of fluids.
  • When sneezing or coughing, use a tissue to cover your nose and mouth.

Right now, a swine flu vaccine is being tested. So far, officials are encouraged by the results. There are some clinics around the country that already have limited supplies of the H1N1 vaccine. The vaccine requires two shots, three weeks apart, in order to provide immunity. A swine flu vaccination should be given in addition to a regular flu shot (so children may end up with three shots this flu season). So far, a national vaccination plan has not been developed, but President Obama is encouraging all citizens to participate when the swine flu vaccine becomes more widely available, probably in October.

You can get more information on the swine flu, how to protect yourself and the latest news updates by visiting the CDC’s 2009 H1N1 Flu site.

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