Tips on keeping the flu out of your witch's brew


 Some people this Halloween are choosing to make a joke of the H1N1 or swine flu by dressing up in medical scrubs and a pig's nose, but health experts say the disease is no laughing matter -- especially when it affects young children.
Children under the age of 5 -- particularly those with diabetes or

chronic respiratory problems like asthma -- are among those most at risk for developing complications related to the flu strain that closed more than 100 schools across the country last spring.

Preventing the disease is a priority for parents, schools and health experts alike. And flu prevention during Halloween is imperative, when goodies (along with germs) will be passed from hand to hand.

As with other forms of flu, most people develop H1N1 after touching a person or object infected with the virus, and then touching their own eyes, nose or mouth, or after being coughed or sneezed on.

To help ensure that the flu doesn't come home with your child's Halloween treats, health experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommend the following:

# Get vaccinated. While most pediatricians' offices have not yet received the H1N1 vaccine, they have received seasonal flu vaccines.

Although this vaccination does not specifically protect against H1N1, it does help protect against other forms of flu which can be equally as debilitating, according to the American Lung Association. The CDC recommends that all youths 6 months to 24 years old receive both the seasonal flu and H1N1 vaccine.

# Cough and sneeze into a tissue or your elbow. If you are attending a Halloween party with a cold or the sniffles, covering your nose and mouth when sneezing will help germs from spreading, according to Yvonne Maldonado, chief of infectious disease at Stanford University's Lucile Packard Children's Hospital.

"Parents need to make sure that children know how to protect others," she said in a statement. "If you use a tissue, throw it into the trash immediately."

# Practice good hand hygiene. Both before and after trick-or-treating, wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub -- then, make it a regular habit.

# Avoid close contact with sick people. Recognize flu symptoms, which include fever, body aches, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, nausea and occasionally vomiting or diarrhea. If you're the one who is sick, stay home -- even on Halloween. The CDC recommends that adults and children with flu-like illness stay home for at least 24 hours after having taken their last dose of fever-reducing medication and to make sure their fever is gone.

# Get enough sleep and stay well hydrated. Drink and rest -- these are two of the best ways to keep the body healthy.

"But parents should be in touch with their healthcare provider if they have any concerns," Maldonado added.

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