Worrying Too Much: It’s easy to get carried away, with all the hype about the scary swine flu virus; however, it’s important to look at things in perspective. Overall, H1N1 has not proven to be anymore of a threat than the regular seasonal flu, and most people who do catch the virus fully recover.
Worrying Too Little: The healthiest approach to flu season is to take a position somewhere between panic and indifference. Typically, high-risk flu patients are at least 65 years old, under age 2, pregnant, or have preexisting medical conditions. But H1N1 seems to be able to cause severe illness in some otherwise healthy children and young adults, and people over age 65 are less likely to get ill. The bottom line: Age group or health status doesn’t make you invincible, and we should all take flu prevention seriously.
Hugging, Kissing, Shaking Hands: Close contact with infected individuals is one of the easiest ways to pick up a virus. That doesn’t mean you should be antisocial all flu season long, but you should be aware of possible transmission opportunities. If you are in a situation where physical hellos or good-byes are necessary, try not to touch your mouth or eyes afterward until you can wash your hands.
Smoking: Smoking cigarettes weakens the tiny disease-fighting hairs tucked inside nasal passages and the lungs, which trap and dispose of germs. This can leave your body more susceptible to attack. Plus, research shows that H1N1 burrows deeper into the lungs than seasonal flu, leading to infections that may be more severe than those caused by the latter.
Hitting The Gym: Some behaviors that in moderate amounts keep you healthy can actually weaken your immune system when taken to the extreme. For example, over exercising can leave your body struggling to cope with added physical stress—especially if you’re not sleeping, hydrating, and fueling your body adequately. Unfortunately, the gym is also a great place to pick up viruses, from the sweaty treadmill to the benches in the locker room; plus, germs likely even catch a ride home on your gym bag. Wipe down the machines and mats before and after you use them.
Drinking Alcohol: A recent study in BMC Immunology found that mice who consume large quantities of alcohol in a short period of time are left with weakened immune systems and might have a harder time fighting off infections for at least 24 hours. Another side effect from drinking too much: Alcohol can quickly and easily dehydrate you, which interferes with your nose’s and throat’s ability to trap germs and expel them in the form of mucus.
Relying Solely On Sanitizing Gel: First, check the ingredients in your hand sanitizer: It should contain 60 to 95 percent alcohol, ethanol, or isopropanol, to work best. Second, don’t replace old-fashioned hand-washing. Hand sanitizers are effective germ killers when a sink is not available, but there is no research to prove they actually kill viruses. Using soap and water is still your best bet to washing away the flu.
Washing Hands Incorrectly: The U.S. earned a measly B- on a recent report card that was issued by the Soap and Detergent Association based on the results of an independent telephone survey. Frequent hand-washing, as often as 10 times a day, is one of the most recommended defenses against the flu, but 39 percent of respondents seldom or never wash after coughing or sneezing. And almost half of the respondents who do wash only do so for 15 seconds or less, despite recommendations to wash for 20 seconds or more. Whistle “Happy Birthday” twice while scrubbing all surfaces on hands and between fingers, and dry hands completely. Turn off the faucet and open the bathroom door with a paper towel to keep hands clean.
Mishandling A Face Mask: If you’re going to wear a mask, make sure you’re using it, and removing it, correctly—or it’s bound to do you little good. Masks accumulate the virus, and you have to be extremely careful taking the mask off. Make sure the mask doesn’t brush against your nose or mouth or eyes; throw it out, and definitely wash your hands after. Remove the mask by the straps or strings in the back so you avoid touching the front of the mask, which will be the most contaminated.
Taking Flu Drugs Prematurely: In the midst of the swine flu panic, some patients have rushed to stock up on antiviral medications like Tamiflu. The majority of people won’t need these drugs—ever—and taking them unnecessarily could increase the risk that the virus will become resistant to these medicines