10 Ways You Put Yourself At Risk for H1N1
Surprising risk factors
Whether you decide to get a flu shot this year or not, it’s important to take steps to prevent yourself from getting the seasonal flu, as well as H1N1, commonly referred to as swine flu.
If you already sneeze into your sleeve, wash your hands diligently, and avoid crowds where these viruses can easily spread, you’re on the right track. But you still may be putting yourself at risk in these unexpected ways—probably without even realizing it.
Worrying too much
Panicking about getting sick can make you just that—sick. It’s easy to get carried away, with all the hype about the scary swine flu virus; however, it’s important to look at things in perspective. Overall, H1N1 has not proven to be anymore of a threat than the regular seasonal flu, and most people who do catch the virus fully recover.
Research does show, however, that anxiety can manifest itself in a wide variety of ailments—including acid reflux, insomnia, skin rashes, and depression—so it shouldn’t be surprising that the added stress of worrying about swine flu can also weaken your immune system and leave you more vulnerable to catching a bug.
Hugging, kissing, and shaking hands
What’s so dangerous about a simple handshake? Close contact with infected individuals is one of the easiest ways to pick up a virus. That doesn’t mean you should be antisocial all flu season long, but you should be aware of possible transmission opportunities. If you are in a situation where physical hellos or good-byes are necessary, try not to touch your mouth or eyes afterward until you can wash your hands.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends maintaining a 6-foot buffer from sick people to cut down on the virus’s ability to spread. So, as a precautionary measure, all sorts of cultural greetings—from shaking hands to hugging to kissing on the cheek—are getting the ax.
Smoking cigarettes weakens the tiny disease-fighting hairs tucked inside nasal passages and the lungs, which trap and dispose of germs. This can leave your body more susceptible to attack. Plus, research shows that H1N1 burrows deeper into the lungs than seasonal flu, leading to infections that may be more severe than those caused by the latter.
Pascal James Imperato, MD, the dean of the School of Public Health at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, in Brooklyn, warns that prior lung damage, such as that caused by smoking, can leave you at greater risk of serious complications as well. “Chronic smokers are always much more vulnerable to severe viral infections of the respiratory type,” he says. “They have damaged lungs, so they are more susceptible to coming down with illnesses and developing pneumonias following them.”
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