By Steven R. Shelton

Pandemic flu is an issue everybody is talking about these days, and with good reason. Reports of avian flu transmitting from bird-to-bird and bird-to-human have received international coverage.

The H5N1 avian virus has spread through three continents faster than any infection in our lifetime. World health and agriculture officials are concerned, governments are mobilizing, health agencies are issuing guidelines and checklists for planning and preparedness. It’s little wonder that many people may be in a quandary about what is going to happen and what they can do about it.

Here’s the good news: there are positive actions you can take right now that will help to protect you and your loved ones from catching the flu and other infections. They’re relatively easy, within your control and effective at ensuring continued good health. These preventive measures — the same healthy habits we learned in grade school — help to contain and prevent the spread of infection. If you don’t get infected, you don’t get sick. The flu-fighting tools are:

• Wash your hands. Infection gets into the body primarily through getting germs, bacteria and viruses, on your hands and then touching your eyes, your nose or your mouth. Cleaning your hands periodically will prevent passing infection from your hands to your body. Scrub your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, rinse them thoroughly with clean water and dry.

• Practice cough/sneeze etiquette. Flu virus spreads through droplets of mucus. Coughing and sneezing puts these tiny droplets into the air and onto other people. Always cover a cough or sneeze with a tissue, handkerchief, your hands or even your sleeve. Dispose of the tissue into a waste receptacle and wash your hands.

• Eat right. Good nutrition helps to build your body’s natural immunity to fight infection. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.

• Exercise. Appropriate exercise keeps your body in good shape and enhances your immune system.

• Relieve stress. Relaxation counteracts harmful stress and enhances your immune system.

• Sleep. Adequate sleep allows your body to replenish itself and boosts your immune system.

The East Texas Area Health Education Center is promoting these tools as a part of the statewide AHEC campaign, Your Health is in Your Hands. For more information, go to www.fyiahec.org.

Steven R. Shelton is executive director of East Texas Area Health Education Center based at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.
The Your Health column is written by health and medical experts at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. The column focuses on topical health issues that we believe are of interest to your readers. It is e-mailed every Tuesday. If you have any questions about the column, or would like to suggest topics, please contact John Koloen, media relations specialist, at (409) 772-8790 or email jskoloen@utmb.edu.