Swine Flu: 10 Things Not to Do

Last Editorial Review: 7/17/2009

Why you should nix swine flu parties, and other swine flu don'ts.

By Miranda Hitti
WebMD Feature

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Swine flu isn't in the headlines as much as it was a couple of months ago, and while there have been deaths and hospitalizations in countries worldwide, most cases have been relatively mild.

That's the good news. But the bad news is, swine flu isn't gone. In fact, it may pick up steam during the usual flu season -- and it could worsen.

With that in mind, here are 10 swine flu "don'ts" -- things not to do for swine flu prevention.

1. Don't expect seasonal flu vaccination to prevent swine flu.

The seasonal flu vaccine doesn't protect against swine flu. Scientists are working on a swine flu vaccine, but that will be a separate vaccination.

Do get vaccinated against seasonal flu, when that vaccine becomes available. Seasonal flu can be serious, especially for infants, elders, and people with weak immune systems. The CDC notes that seasonal flu or its complications kill an average of 36,000 people per year in the U.S. and hospitalize more than 200,000 people.

Getting vaccinated each year against seasonal flu is the single best way to protect against seasonal flu, according to the CDC.

2. Don't count on a face mask to prevent swine flu infection.

According to the CDC, it's not clear how effective face masks are at preventing the transmission of the H1N1 or seasonal influenza viruses. The same is true for respirators worn snugly over the face as filters.

The CDC doesn't recommend face masks or respirators in most settings, except if you're at high risk of severe illness from influenza and are caring for someone who has a flu-like illness, or for high-risk people who can't avoid being in a crowded setting where the swine flu virus is present.

3. Don't hold or attend a swine flu party.

The guest of honor at a swine flu party is someone who's got swine flu. The point is for other guests to catch the virus in the hopes that they'll have a mild illness and gain immunity so that they won't get sick if the H1N1 virus worsens.

That's a bad idea, according to the CDC, because there's no way to know whether swine flu will be severe or fatal in swine flu party guests -- or anyone else that they, in turn, infect.

4. Don't neglect planning.

Remember all those swine flu school closings last spring? That could happen again when the new school year starts. So now's the time for parents to plan how they would handle a child's school closing for several days or weeks.

Workers may also want to look into how their company handles sick leave or time off to care for someone with swine flu. And you might also want to stock up on tissues, disinfectants, and soap or alcohol-based hand sanitizers for work and home.

5. Don't forget to clean up.

Flu viruses can linger on books, toys, countertops, doorknobs, phones, linens, eating utensils, and other objects. Use a household disinfectant, following the directions on the products' label.

The CDC recommends that when you launder linens of someone who has the flu, don't hug the laundry before washing it, and set the clothes dryer to the hot setting. Wash your hands with soap and water (or use an alcohol-based hand gel) immediately after handling dirty laundry.

6. Don't get complacent.

Don't shrug off swine flu precautions. The H1N1 swine flu virus is still around, and the CDC expects more hospitalizations and more deaths from the swine flu virus.

Here are the CDC's tips for reducing swine flu infection:

  • Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze. Use a tissue or your arm -- not your hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Or use an alcohol-based hand cleaner.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Stay home if you are sick for seven days after your symptoms begin or until you have been symptom-free for 24 hours (whichever is longer) to keep from infecting others.

The U.K.'s National Health System notes that when someone sick with flu talks, sneezes, spits, or coughs, infected flu droplets can travel at least 1 meter (about 3.3. feet). The NHS recommends that when you use a tissue, you throw it out after one use.


7. Don't panic.

Swine flu is a pandemic, but so far, it's been a "moderate" pandemic, according to WHO Director Margaret Chan, MD.

That could change. Health officials have said all along that they expect to see a range of severity in swine flu cases, including more hospitalizations and deaths, and they've cautioned that the virus could change and become harsher.

"The overwhelming majority of patients experience mild symptoms and make a fully recovery within a week, often in the absence of any form of medical treatment," Chan said in a speech given in Cancun, Mexico, on July 2 at an international health meeting about H1N1 flu.

Chan noted that pregnant women and people with underlying health conditions are at higher risk for complications. She also pointed out that "for reasons that are poorly understood, some deaths are occurring in perfectly healthy young people," and that some cases quickly become life-threatening.

Chan recommends vigilance, not panic or complacency.

"We cannot be alarmist," Chan said in her Cancun speech. "At the same time, if we are overly reassuring, patients in genuine need of treatment, where rapid emergency care can make a life-and-death difference, may be lulled into waiting too long."

8. Don't leave home if you've got flu-like symptoms.

Those symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue; diarrhea and vomiting may also be symptoms of swine flu.

Unless you're going to get medical care, stay home to avoid infecting others. That means not going to work or school, not running your normal errands, and not traveling. By staying home, you'll help prevent other people from getting sick.

9. Don't rush to the emergency room unless you have certain symptoms.

The CDC urges people to seek emergency medical care for a sick child with any of these symptoms:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish or gray skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and cough

And here is the CDC's list of symptoms that should trigger emergency medical care for adults:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Having a high fever for more than three days is another danger sign, according to the WHO.


Which illness is known as a viral upper respiratory tract infection? See Answer

10. If you're a parent, don't forget to teach your kids swine flu prevention.

Children need to do the same things as adults -- stay home when sick, avoid sick people, cough and sneeze into a tissue, and wash their hands.

The CDC recommends teaching kids to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice while washing their hands with soap and water, so that they wash their hands for 20 seconds. Another CDC suggestion: Tell kids to stay at least 6 feet away from people who are sick.

Those pointers also work for grown-ups.

CDC: "Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine."
CDC: "Interim Recommendations for Facemask and Respirator Use to Reduce Novel Influenza A(H1N1) Virus Transmission." 
CDC: "Novel H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu) and You."
CDC:" General Business and Workplace Guidance for the Prevention of Novel Influenza A(H1N1) Flu in Workers."
National Health System: "Alert: Important Information About Swine Flu."
National Health System: "Swine Flu Information."
World Health Organization: "Influenza A(H1N1): Lessons Learned and Preparedness."
CDC: "What to Do If You Get Flu-Like Symptoms: Emergency Warning Signs."
CDC: "Advice for Parents on Talking to Children About Novel H1N1 Flu (Formerly Swine Flu) Concerns." 
World Health Organization: "Behavioral Interventions for Reducing the Transmission and Impact of Influenza A(H1N1) Virus: A
Framework for Communication Strategies."
Reviewed on July 06, 2009
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