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April 29, 2009 > Protect Yourself from the Flu

Protect Yourself from the Flu

An update based on recent events concerning the Swine Flu

With the recent news regarding the swine flu, which appears to have originated in Mexico, you can significantly improve your odds of staying well by washing your hands frequently and following other flu prevention tips. (As of the update to this article on 4/27/09, seven cases have been confirmed in California and none of them are in the Bay Area.) The following article has been updated and originally appeared in a December 2008 issue of the Tri-City Voice. The information it contains is current and the basic prevention tips can help you and your family.

Handwashing is the single most important way to prevent the spread of infection, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Germs, including viruses that cause diseases like the flu, can end up on people's hands and are transferred to surfaces like store counters, door knobs, shopping carts and ATM machines, where they are picked up by others who touch those surfaces.

"Handwashing interrupts the transmission of disease," said Marilyn Khalaji, RN, CIC, quality control coordinator at Washington Hospital. "It breaks the chain of infection by washing the viruses down the drain."

While many of the germs found on your hands do not cause illness, a recent study by the University of Colorado-Boulder shows just how much your hands can pick up. Researchers there swabbed 102 human palms and found more than 4,700 species of bacteria.

The CDC recommends washing your hands before eating; before, during and after handling or preparing food; after contact with blood or body fluids (like vomit, secretions from your nose, or saliva); after changing a diaper; after you use the bathroom; after handling animals and their toys, leashes, or waste; after touching something that could be contaminated (such as a trash can, cleaning rag, or soil); before dressing a wound, giving medicine, or inserting contact lenses; and more often when someone in the home or office is sick.

"It's really important to get into the habit of washing your hands regularly so you can stay healthy all yearlong," Khalaji said. "We have to get the little ones trained at a young age so when they grow up they are already in the habit. It is so important to controlling the spread of disease."

Proper handwashing includes wetting your hands with warm water, applying soap, and rubbing your hands together vigorously for at least 15 seconds. It takes that long for the soap and scrubbing action to dislodge and remove stubborn germs. Then rinse hands under running water for a few seconds.

"Hand sanitizer also works well in place of soap and water," Khalaji said. "If the hands are not actually soiled, hand sanitizer works as well as soap and water."

Influenza is a Serious Disease

The flu (including the swine flu) is a contagious respiratory disease caused by influenza viruses. Symptoms include fever, headache, extreme fatigue, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, and stomach problems such as nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.

The virus spreads from person to person through coughing and sneezing or touching surfaces infected with flu virus and then touching the nose or mouth. Most healthy adults can infect others a day before symptoms develop and up to five days after becoming sick.

In addition to washing your hands frequently, the following tips can prevent the spread of colds and flu:

* Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

* Stay home from work, school and errands when you are sick and consult your physician.

* Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and throw away the tissue.

* Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

* Practice good health habits like getting plenty of sleep and physical activity, managing your stress, drinking plenty of fluids and eating nutritious foods.

To learn more about the swine flu or preventing the spread of infectious disease, visit or, and click on the swine flu update button. For more information about Washington Hospital and its programs and services, visit

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