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Stay Healthy In The New Year

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Iowa Dept. of Public Health (IDPH) urges Iowans to take steps to stay healthy in 2009. Influenza season is entering its most active months; in addition, recent cases of norovirus, shigellosis and hantavirus offer opportunities to remind Iowans that good hygiene and disease prevention are the best ways to avoid illness.

The best prevention against influenza is receiving a yearly flu shot. The flu is a respiratory illness caused by viruses. It spreads easily from person to person and can cause mild to severe illness. The flu comes on suddenly and symptoms may include fever, headache, tiredness, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, and body aches. Illness typically lasts two to seven days. Influenza is preventable:

* If you or your school-aged children haven't gotten the flu shot yet, do it now. The influenza vaccine is available for children as young as 6 months old. The flu vaccine is the best defense against getting influenza.

* Wash your hands frequently. If you cannot wash your hands, you may use alcohol-based hand sanitizer as long as hands are not visibly soiled.

* Stay home from work or school when you are ill with the flu, and encourage others to do the same.

* Stay away from people you know are ill. Maintain at least a three-foot distance from someone coughing and sneezing.

Hantavirus is a respiratory disease caused by a virus carried by rodents, such as mice. People become infected after breathing in airborne particles of urine, droppings or saliva from infected rodents. There have been seven cases of hantavirus in Iowa. Most cases in the U.S. have been associated with rodent-infested homes, cabins or other buildings. To protect yourself against hantavirus, it's important to follow these rodent removal and clean-up guidelines:

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* Use bleach solution or household disinfectant to wet down dead rodents, rodent nests, or rodent urine and feces. This will decrease the chance of virus particles going into the air, where they can be breathed in.

* Wear rubber gloves when removing dead rodents, rodent nests, or rodent urine and feces.

* Wash your hands with soap and water after cleanup.

* Open doors and windows for good ventilation while cleaning.

Norovirus causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and cramps. Outbreaks have been associated with food and water, but most norovirus infections are spread from person to person, especially among family members. Shigellosis results in severe diarrhea which can be bloody and fever. Shigella is easily spread from person to person. To prevent both norovirus and shigella:

* Anyone who is ill with diarrhea, vomiting or fever should stay home and not work with food, the elderly, in health care or child care.

* Good hand washing must be done every time people use the toilet, change a diaper, or before they eat or prepare any food.

* Infants and children must also have their hands washed after diapers have been changed or after using the toilet, and before eating.