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Take precautions to avoid germs
Health advice
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I just discovered another reason for getting a flu shot. Not only can you spread the flu to your friends and family but, according to, your family dog and cat also are capable of contracting human flu.
First identified among dogs in Florida in 2003, canine influenza now is found nationwide. The only difference is that canine influenza’s occurrence is not seasonal, so there is no need to rush to get a fall veterinary appointment for canine flu shots. And yes, there are flu vaccines available for dogs.
Dogs who attend doggy daycare centers or who are very social usually are more at risk for flu, but if you don’t get immunized and get the flu, it is highly recommended that you stay away from your pets (social or otherwise) as well as your family.
And if you must be around your pets, be sure to wash your hands before doing so.
Despite the proven benefits of hand washing, too many people don’t practice this habit as often as they should — even after they’ve used the bathroom.
Germs accumulate on our hands no matter what we do. We get them from direct contact with people, contaminated surfaces, foods and animals. And when we don’t wash our hands frequently, we infect ourselves by touching our eyes, nose and mouth, or we infect others, including pets, by touching them or surfaces that they also will touch.
In addition to the common cold and flu, inadequate hand hygiene can contribute to food-related illnesses, such as salmonella and E. coli. While hand washing doesn’t take much time or effort, it offers great rewards in terms of preventing illness.
Good hand-washing techniques include washing our hands with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Not all hand sanitizers are created equally. Waterless hand sanitizers that don’t contain alcohol are not effective. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends choosing sanitizing products that contain at least 60 percent alcohol.
The following precautions, while important all the time, especially are important during the flu season.
1. Avoid contact with people who are sick. Call them or send thoughtful cards or gifts until they are on the mend. They won’t feel like visitors, anyway. Suggest coworkers go home when flu-like symptoms descend.
2. When sick, keep your distance from others so you don’t pass your illness to them. Stay home from work or school and limit errands when you are sick. 
3. Always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Wash hands immediately if you must cough or sneeze directly in your hand.
4. Keep your hands away from your face. Germs are spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her nose or mouth.
5. Get eight hours of rest each night and drink plenty of fluids. Water flushes your system and rehydrates you. A typical, healthy adult needs eight 8-ounce glasses of fluids each day.
6. Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs as well as save a lot of money on medical bills.
The CDC has labeled hand washing as “the single most important means of preventing the spread of infection.” While many people are taught this lesson as children, most either forget or choose to ignore its importance. Done properly and often, hand washing may be the best way to keep you from getting sick or from passing on a disease like the flu to someone else.

Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.
Editor’s note: Parts of this column originally were published in the Dec. 11, 2007, edition of the Courier.

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