Swine flu - protecting your family

What can you do to try to protect your family from swine flu? Read these simple measures you can take to avoid catching and spreading swine flu - also known as swine influenza, pandemic (H1N1) influenza 2009, and influenza A (H1N1).

How influenza viruses spread
Droplets: Influenza viruses are spread in droplets of moisture created when an infected person sneezes or coughs – you can become infected by breathing in these droplets which contain particles of the virus.
Contaminated surfaces: Influenza viruses can survive on surfaces such as door handles for hours. If you touch a contaminated surface, and then go on to touch your eyes, nose or mouth you can infect yourself with the virus. Studies have shown that measurable quantities of influenza virus can be transferred to a person’s hands from stainless steel surfaces for up to 24 hours and from tissues for up to a few minutes.

Good hygiene

Even before a person is showing symptoms of influenza they can be infectious and shedding influenza virus, infecting the people around them – so it’s important to always follow these good hygiene measures. These measures will not only help to protect you from swine influenza, but from other influenza viruses, such as human or avian (bird) flu.

Sneeze into a tissue

Always sneeze into a tissue and make sure you cover your nose and mouth. Throw the tissue in the dustbin afterwards. If you don’t have a tissue, sneeze into your sleeve, not your hands.

Wash your hands often

Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze.

Use hand sanitiser

Use a hand sanitiser gel to clean your hands when you can’t access soap and water. These alcohol-based hand cleaners are available from supermarkets and pharmacies and are useful for when you’re out and about.

Avoid touching your face

Avoid touching your face, especially your mouth, nose and eyes. This will help prevent you from picking up viruses from contaminated surfaces and infecting yourself.

Surgical masks

The effectiveness of a surgical mask depends upon its quality. The idea is that wearing a surgical mask can reduce the risk of you being infected by droplets and should also prevent you from touching your nose and mouth. Experts disagree on whether surgical masks, as worn by the general public, actually reduce the risk of contracting swine flu.

It is, however, recommended that if you have influenza and need to use public transport that you wear a mask to contain the virus.

When you’re sick

Stay at home and limit your contact with other people to avoid infecting them. Don’t go to work or school if you are sick.

Stay away from sick people

Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

Watch your children

Be vigilant for signs and symptoms of influenza in your children. These include fever, headache, chills, body or muscle ache, sore throat, runny nose and fatigue. Teach them hygiene measures like frequent hand-washing, and to cough and sneeze into a tissue. If you child appears sick with flu symptoms, keep them away from school or child care and seek medical attention.

Avoid crowds and busy places

Flu spreads rapidly in places where people crowd together, so try to avoid busy places if possible.

Avoid shaking hands and kissing

Shaking hands and kissing are both ways of transmitting the influenza virus from person to person, so you might want to consider avoiding close contact.

Antiviral medicines

If you get flu symptoms, such as runny nose, fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, fatigue, and sore throat, your doctor can prescribe antiviral medication (e.g. Relenza (zanamivir) or Tamiflu (oseltamivir) that can shorten the duration of the illness. These are most effective if taken as soon as possible after symptoms develop, so be sure to call your doctor as soon as you can.

Last Reviewed: 16 June 2011
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References

1. Bean B, Moore BM, Sterner B et al. Survival of influenza virus on environmental surfaces. J Infect Dis July 1982;146(1):47-51
2. Influenza Specialist Group. www.influenzaspecialistgroup.org.au/content/view/20/31
3. Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Pandemic Influenza: protecting yourself and others (information issued 2011, 19 Jan; current at 2011, June 16). http://www.flupandemic.gov.au/internet/panflu/publishing.nsf/Content/protecting-1 (accessed 2011, Jun 16).

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