Here are a few tips to help prevent infection with H1N1 influenza and to lessen the impact if you do get sick:
-Get lots of rest. Eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet. Vitamin supplements, especially vitamins A, C and D, can help boost the immune system. Exercise regularly.
"Anything that helps our immune systems stay robust helps prevent us getting infected with any disease," says Dr. Bonnie Henry, an infectious disease expert at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. "So the whole healthy lifestyle does help prevent you from getting sicker and in some cases can prevent you getting sick in the first place."
-Do not smoke. Tobacco use makes a person more vulnerable to respiratory infections, including influenza.
-Wash hands with soap and water frequently. Use alcohol-based gel if soap and water are not available.
-Avoiding crowded environments like theatres, malls and public transit, if possible, could help prevent exposure to swine flu.
"There is some evidence that social distancing - that is avoiding crowded places during the height of the pandemic - may be protective," says Dr. Andrew Simor, an infectious disease specialist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.
If a person is at high risk for complications from H1N1 influenza because of pregnancy or an underlying medical condition, "it's something to think about," Simor advises.
-When the pandemic flu vaccine becomes available, get inoculated.
-Ask your doctor whether you should be immunized against pneumococcal infection, the most common complication of both seasonal and pandemic H1N1 influenza.
The pneumococcal vaccine is routinely given to children aged five and younger. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization also recommends that the following individuals get vaccinated: all Canadians over 65; those aged between two and 65 with diabetes, lung diseases like COPD, a compromised immune system, and heart, kidney or liver disease.
-If you do come down with swine flu, stay home.
"The most important thing if you're sick with the flu is not to go into work, not to go to public places where you might expose other people who are at higher risk," stresses Simor.
"I think our society really has to rethink the concept of work ethic in light of having a safe or healthy workplace," he says. "It doesn't do any good for someone to come in to try to get their work done when they're sick with the flu and then end up infecting the people they work with."
"If someone has symptoms of the flu, that's a setting where it's quite appropriate for them to phone in sick and not go to work."