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Expert Q&A

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How can I keep my family healthy if one of us has H1N1?

Asked by Kim, Georgia

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My son was found to have H1N1 flu and has to stay home from school. How can we keep the rest of the family from getting sick?

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Living Well Expert Dr. Jennifer Shu Pediatrician,
Children's Medical Group

Expert answer

Thanks for your question. Many of the patients I see in my practice have voiced similar concerns. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 1 million Americans have been infected with H1N1 influenza since April 2009. There is a 10 to 20 percent chance of getting H1N1 from a household contact, although studies vary, and the risk may be much higher. Here are some steps I advise my patients to take to minimize their chances of getting this illness.

Keep your distance. Place your child in a separate room of house as much as possible, and consider taking his meals to him. People who are at high risk of complications from influenza (such as young children under 5, pregnant women and individuals with certain medical conditions such as asthma or heart disease) are advised to stay at least 6 feet away, so as to avoid being exposed to droplets from the sick person's coughs or sneezes.

Hands off. Avoid holding or shaking hands with sick people in general. In fact, I try to avoid shaking hands whenever possible, especially during cold and flu season. If hand-to-hand contact occurs, wash your hands or use a sanitizer rub immediately afterwards.

Keep objects and surfaces clean. Occupy your child with books and toys that can be washed easily. Clean doorknobs, refrigerator handles and sink faucets with a household disinfectant.

Discourage sharing. Germs are one of the few things in life you won't want your child to share so avoid sharing drinks, utensils and towels.

Cover the cough. Teach your child to cough or sneeze into a tissue (and then throw it away and wash his hands right away) or into his sleeve or elbow. You may also wish to cover his face (or yours) with a face mask that fits as snugly as comfortably possible.

Consider antiviral medicines. Medications such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) taken by household members may help prevent them from developing H1N1 infection. Ask your doctor if this type of prevention is recommended for your situation.

Cuddle carefully. If you hug your child while he's sick, do so with your face turned away from his. Avoid kissing on the mouth.

Air out your home. Open the windows or turn on a fan in common areas such as kitchens, family rooms and bathrooms.

Bide your time. People tend to get sick from H1N1 within about seven days of being exposed to someone with the illness. The sick person is most contagious during the first few days of influenza, although infants and young children can continue shedding the virus for longer than a week. If a week has passed since your son first got sick and you don't have any symptoms, there's a good chance you will not become infected by him.

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