Parents and Children Can Take Steps to Avoid H1N1
Your child has symptoms that used to just upset you: runny nose, sore throat, cough.

Now those same symptoms terrify you.

You know they may be signs of the H1N1 "swine flu" influenza strain.

That flu has already swept through many parts of the country and experts fear a resurgence this fall.

Parents now have to sift through a swirling mass of information about this new health threat. Younger children may be even more confused.

"What I'm hearing is that parents are fearful because of the unknown, because it's something new. People get the feeling that it's a changing playing field where recommendations are changing, which is true," says David Ulery, pediatrician at Aurora Wilkinson Medical Clinic in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.

Kids cope with flu fears in their own way.

"Kids are fearful of the shots. But some of our children say, 'I'm not afraid of the shot, so can I get one for my sister because she's afraid and then she doesn't have to get one?' " says John R. Meurer, associate professor of pediatrics and chief of general pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin, and medical director of Milwaukee's Downtown Health Center.

There are ways to make the swine flu less fearsome for both parents and children. Here are some ideas.


  • Raise your family's general health level. Make sure everyone gets enough sleep, eats right and exercises to improve immunity.

  • Know the contagion timetable. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with H1N1 virus may infect people from one day before getting sick to five to seven days after. This "infection window" may be longer for children.

  • Remember the swine flu's method of operation to outfox it. The swine flu spreads through the same viral techniques as seasonal flu: through the coughs and sneezes of flu sufferers and by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching your mouth or nose.

  • Stay informed on swine flu vaccination techniques. Current data suggests that people ages 10 and older will need one injection; ages 9 and younger might need two. You may also be given the option of getting your child vaccinated with a nasal spray, usually recommended for children older than 2 who do not have chronic health problems. "We feel the spray is better," Ulery says.

And the old saying about sugar making "the medicine go down" holds with shots, too. "Tell your child he or she will be rewarded after getting the shot, maybe with a sticker or a little book or treat," Meurer says.

  • Focus on prevention. "Avoid people who are sick," Meurer says. The CDC recommends staying at least 6 feet away from flu sufferers. Keep surfaces such as kitchen counters and toys clean by wiping them down with household disinfectant according to product directions. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands. Wash your hands frequently or use a hand sanitizer that contains alcohol.

  • Know the swine flu symptoms. The H1N1 virus symptoms are mainly the same as the seasonal flu: fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headaches, chills and fatigue. However, health experts say that H1N1 sufferers also often experience vomiting and diarrhea.

  • Recognize signs of an emergency. Call the doctor immediately if your child has fast or troubled breathing, bluish or gray skin color, won't drink fluids, has severe or persistent vomiting, or will not wake up or interact.
    li>Make sure young flu victims drink plenty of fluids.

  • Talk to your kids about the swine flu. "Let them know the risk is low and prevention works," Meurer says.


  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth without washing your hands first. Germs spread this way.

  • Stop a germ. Cough into your inner elbow sleeve or into a tissue to prevent spreading the virus on your hands.

  • Learn the best - and most fun - way to wash your hands. The trick is to wash them for at least 20 seconds. How long is that? "Sing 'Happy Birthday to You' to yourself twice while washing," Ulery says.

  • For more fun, you can wash your hands to a new song by Grammy-winner Bill Harley that just happens to be called - what else? - "Wash Your Hands." Download a free copy at

  • Flu shots aren't so bad. "When you get an injection, hold still and look away," Meurer says.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Journal Sentinel files