As if flu season weren't scary enough (spending two weeks in bed is hardly worth the sick days), this year, the H1N1 virus (otherwise known as swine flu) is back in full force. While vaccines are available, priority is being given to those groups most at risk, particularly pregnant women, young children and people with chronic illnesses. Try to live a healthy life while waiting for your shot? Unfortunately, there's no foolproof way to avoid coming in contact with the virus (a recent study out of Purdue University even predicted that 63 percent of the population would become infected), but you can up your chances of avoiding infection by following these health tips:
Swine Flu Prevention Tip #1: Access your risk
Anyone can get sick, but your chances are higher if you fall into one of the three previously mentioned categories, and/or if you work as a teacher or in medicine.
You can catch H1N1 anywhere, but be extra careful in "hot zones" like the waiting room at your doctor's office, airplanes and the gym. Nobody's saying to stop working out, but be diligent about wiping down workout equipment before and after use. Also, carry a bottle of antibacterial gel to disinfect hands after using weights.
Swine Flu Prevention Tip #2: Protect yourself
Speaking of hands--H1N1 is transmitted from person to person through coughing or sneezing, so short of walking around with a facemask, scrubbing your hands is your best bet for protecting yourself. Think of it this way: If your coworker has the virus (but doesn't know it yet) and sneezes into her hand, that doorknob she just turned is now a Petri dish. If you touch it and then rub your eyes, nose or mouth, you've introduced the virus into your system. So wash your hands frequently with soap and hot water.
Of course, the best thing you can do to protect yourself is to get vaccinated, so check out Flu.gov to find out how many shots are available in your area and where you can potentially get one. Warning: It takes about two weeks for the shot to make you immune, so if you come into contact with the virus before that, there's still a chance you'll get sick.
Swine Flu Prevention Tip #3: Guard your home
Use bleach-based products to disinfect surfaces--and don't forget to wipe down remote controls, computer keyboards and other hands-on gadgets. In addition, wash used towels, bedding and clothing in hot water, and throw away or boil sponges used for cleaning.
Swine Flu Prevention Tip #4: Get a boost
Eating an apple a day isn't going to ward off H1N1, but revving up your immune system with vitamin C can help your body protect itself from viruses and germs by upping your white blood cell count. There's also evidence that vitamin D, which the body naturally produces from sunlight, might play a role in strengthening the immune system. So even if you're feeling healthy and leading a healthy life, take your vitamins and eat nutrient-rich foods like berries, citrus fruits and leafy greens.
Swine Flu Prevention Tip #5: Know the symptoms
First things first: If you start to feel ill, is it with the cold, flu or H1N1? Typically, colds begin with a sore throat and progress to congestion and mild fatigue. The "regular" flu and H1N1 have similar symptoms, but are also marked by extreme fatigue, fever, headache, soreness and coughing. H1N1 is often accompanied by diarrhea and/or vomiting as well, but these can also be signs of the stomach flu or other ailments.
It can be difficult to determine what you have, but as a general rule, the regular flu and H1N1 cause a fever--usually of at least 100 degrees--that lasts for two to four days.
Swine Flu Prevention Tip #6: Deal with it
If you are unlucky enough to contract H1N1 this season, don't panic--chances are you'll feel sick for several days, then gradually get better and continue on living a healthy life. Last year, thousands of people rushed to hospitals only to be told what they'd expect to hear from their doctors when diagnosed with a bad cold: Go home, get rest, drink fluids.
The only way to know for sure whether or not you've come down with H1N1 is to get a swab test through your doctor. After a positive result, your doctor might prescribe one of two antiviral medications, TAMIFLU® or RELENZA®, to ease symptoms-but there's no cure. It's also worth noting that a positive diagnosis will likely have your boss telling you to stay home, since The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend an exclusion period of three to five days (about 24 hours after the fever breaks).