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Dr. Manoj K Goel
Director & Head
Dept of Pulmonology, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine
Fortis Memorial Research Institute,Gurugram(Delhi & NCR)

Although vaccination is the best way to prevent the swine flu, the strategy is to not allow any virus type to contact a person's mucus. Quarantining any virus-infected people is an extreme measure that may work in some instances (for example, China used this method), but even with quarantining, the virus may still spread by people who have minimal or no symptoms.

The next step, that is easier to be implemented by individuals, is for people with the disease to self-quarantine until they become noninfectious (about seven to 10 days after flu symptoms abate). Infected people can wear surgical masks to reduce the amount of droplet spray from coughs and sneezes and throw away contaminated tissues. Unfortunately, these approaches depend on the compliance of many other people, and the likelihood that such methods will be highly successful in preventing flu virus infections, at best, is only fair.  

Yet there are still some other methods available to individuals. Perhaps the best way for individuals to try to prevent flu virus infection is a combination of methods that are aimed at fulfilling the very basic principle that if the virus doesn't reach an individual's mucus membrane cells, infection will be prevented. The methods are as follows:

  1. Kill or inactivate the virus before it reaches a human cell by using soap and water to clean your hands; washing clothing and taking a shower will do the same for the rest of your body.
  2. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available, and use sanitizers on objects that many people may touch (for example, doorknobs, computer keyboards, handrails, phones), although some researchers suggest that such sanitizers are generally ineffective.
  3. Do not touch your mouth, eyes, nose, unless you first do items 1 or 2 above.
  4. Avoid crowds, parties, and especially people who are coughing and sneezing (most virus-containing droplets do not travel more than 4 feet, so experts suggest 6 feet away is a good distance to stay). If you cannot avoid crowds (or parties), try to remain aware of people around you and use the 6-foot rule with anyone coughing or sneezing. Do not reach for or eat snacks out of canisters or other containers at parties.
  5. Avoid touching anything within about 6 feet of an uncovered cough/sneeze, because the droplets that contain virus fall and land on anything usually within that range.
  6. Studies show that individuals who wear surgical or N95 particle masks may prevent inhalation of some H1N1 virus, but the masks may prevent only about 50% of airborne exposures and offer no protection against surface droplets. However, masks on H1N1 infected people can markedly reduce the spread of infected droplets.

These six steps can help prevent individuals from getting H1N1 and other types of infection, but for many people, adherence to them may be difficult at best.  

In addition, common-sense precautions such as not drinking or eating things touched by others, avoiding casual physical contacts (for example, handshakes, social hugs or kisses, public water fountains, banisters on stairways, and restroom door handles) will limit exposure to H1N1 and other viruses. Again, these common-sense suggestions lack data substantiation.

 Similarly, current antiviral medications (described in the preceding section) act on H1N1 and other viruses that have already infected cells; they work by preventing or reducing viral particles from aggregating and being released from infected cells. Timing is important; if only a few cells are infected and the antiviral medications are administered quickly (usually before flu symptoms develop or within 48 hours), the viruses are reduced in number (they cannot easily bud out from the cell surface), so few, if any, other respiratory or mucus membrane cells become infected. This can result in either no flu symptoms or, if a larger number of cells were initially infected, less severe symptoms. The overall effect for the person is that the H1N1 or other viral infection was prevented (it was not; the symptoms were prevented from developing) or that symptoms were reduced.

 

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