As our country deals with the rapidly progressive threat of an epidemic of A(H1N1) flu, it is useful to remember that the A(H1N1) virus is spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing by infected persons.

Sometimes, people may become infected by touching a surface or object with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose. Therefore, the Centre for Disease Control in the U.S. has made the following recommendations to prevent the spread of this illness: Individuals who are sick with flu-like illness should stay at home for at least 24 hours after the fever subsides. They should stay away from others as much as possible. They should cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when they cough or sneeze, throw the used tissue in the waste basket, and then clean their hands by washing with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand cleaners.

Individuals who do not have any symptoms should avoid close contact with sick people, should avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth (because this can help the virus spread), and should also clean their hands frequently by washing with soap and warm water for 15 – 20 seconds, or by using alcohol-based hand wipes or gel.

There is another precaution that is applicable particularly in India that has not been highlighted so far, either in the media or in the recommendations of the health authorities, the avoidance of shaking hands when greeting other people. Shaking hands is a Western form of greeting that, with increasing globalisation and westernisation has been widely adopted in India, especially in urban areas. Today, shaking the hand of another person can mean that you are picking up the virus from that person’s hand and exposing yourself to the risk of being infected with a virus that can be lethal. Therefore by folding our hands and saying “Namaste,” the risk of person-to-person transmission of the virus can be eliminated.

(The writer is Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Centre, Lebanon, NH, USA)

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