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Stay healthy and enjoy the holidays
Health advice
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Some of us missed out on our annual flu shots this year, so we have to be especially careful with preventive health. Also, if you haven’t already done so,  please get a pneumonia shot. The most common complication of flu is pneumonia — a very good reason to get the pneumonia shot. A one-time deal for many people, a pneumonia  booster  will provide continued immunity for high-risk people for 5-7 years.
Cases of the flu have been widely reported in the United States and are especially widespread in 46 states. Flu-related hospitalizations and deaths have increased and are high nationwide, compared with what is normally expected for this time of year. Usually 5-20 percent of the U.S. population gets the  seasonal flu and more than 200,000 are hospitalized from complications.  Complications from  seasonal flu  result in about  36,000 deaths each year.
People who should get the seasonal vaccine each year are:
• Children ages 6 months to 19 years.
• Pregnant women.
• People 50 and older.
• People with certain. chronic medical conditions.
• People who live in nursing homes and other longterm care facilities.
• People who live with chronic diseases and illnesses that may compromise their ability to fight the virus and get over the flu.
H1N1 flu virus symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea. People may be infected with the flu and H1N1 if they have respiratory symptoms without a fever. Sometimes it is hard to tell which virus is causing the symptoms unless a lab test is done. Severe illnesses and deaths have occurred as a result of illness associated with the seasonal and H1N1 viruses.
H1N1 has been found more often in people younger than 25, and there have been fewer cases and deaths reported in people 65 and older, which is not the case with seasonal flu. However, pregnancy and other high-risk medical conditions from seasonal influenza also appear to be associated with increased risk of complications from H1N1. Conditions that increase one’s risk of complications include asthma, diabetes, suppressed immune systems, heart disease, kidney disease, neurocognitive and neuromuscular disorders and pregnancy.
No matter what type of flu we are trying to avoid, there are some very important  prevention tips everyone should know:   
• Wash your hands often and well.  CDC has labeled hand washing “the single most important means of preventing the spread of infection.”  Germs accumulate on  hands during the course of daily activities. By not washing your hands, you can acquire or pass on a variety of germs, from the flu to more serious diseases like hepatitis. Most people are not as thorough as they should be when they wash their hands. It’s important to use very warm, running water and soap. Wet hands before adding soap and scrub both sides of the hands for 20-30 seconds. Pay close attention to the areas around cuticles, under fingernails and in the creases of your hands. Rinse well under very warm, running water and dry your hands with a disposable paper towel or clean fabric towel. When possible, use a paper towel to turn off the faucet  and open public restroom doors.
• When sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick. Avoid close contact with people who are sick when you aren’t. Stay home from work, school or outside errands when you are sick. Even healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five days after becoming sick. Don’t increase the odds of infection for you or those around you.
• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. If a tissue is not available, cough in your sleeve and if you must cough or sneeze in your hand, wash your hands right away. Otherwise, you’ll end up transferring germs from your hands to door knobs and other surfaces you touch.
• Get plenty of sleep, exercise and eat healthy. Unhealthy lifestyles put you at risk for disease by inhibiting your natural ability to fight off infection.
• When vaccines are available for infectious disease, get them.

Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.
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