Now that October is here, no doubt your family is looking forward to enjoying fall activities - perhaps picking apples, taking hayrides or carving pumpkins. But the H1N1 virus is circulating and the traditional flu season has begun. How can you keep everyone healthy enough to enjoy some fun?

Now that October is here, no doubt your family is looking forward to enjoying fall activities - perhaps picking apples, taking hayrides or carving pumpkins. But the H1N1 virus is circulating and the traditional flu season has begun. How can you keep everyone healthy enough to enjoy some fun?


This fall and winter, more people than ever are expected to be infected with the flu, especially since no one has immunity to the H1N1 flu virus. Most people who contract this new virus recover without medical treatment, but that could change. Health officials continue to monitor H1N1 virus cases to ensure that if the virus "mutates" or changes, and begins causing more severe illness, they can promptly advise communities to modify their responses accordingly.


What are the best prevention strategies?
Getting your family H1N1 vaccinations and teaching them everyday activities that prevent illness are the major strategies recommended for keeping us all healthy.


Because young people readily catch and spread illnesses such as the flu, health officials consider children ages 6 months to 24 years as one of the high priority groups for receiving H1N1 flu vaccinations as they become available. If supplies are limited, school-age children with chronic health conditions are likely to receive vaccinations before other children, who may have to wait a few weeks.


In the meantime, it's a good idea to schedule your child's vaccination for seasonal flu viruses, which is recommended in addition to the H1N1 vaccination.


Each local health department is determining where families can receive H1N1 vaccinations in their areas. For a directory of local health departments, see the Ohio Department of Health's website at www.odh.ohio.gov.


In addition to getting vaccinated, improve your chances of staying healthy during flu season by reminding your family members to:

Cover their noses and mouths with tissues when coughing or sneezing, or cough or sneeze into the inside crook of their arms; Thoroughly and frequently wash their hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers if soap and water are unavailable; Not touch their eyes, noses and mouths - germs are spread that way; and Stay home from work, school or daycare if sick.


What else can parents do?
Keep informed. Several We sites (see box) feature the latest H1N1 news and detailed fact sheets for families that explain vaccinations and other prevention strategies, treatment for sick patients and related emergency planning.

Regularly check for symptoms. Sick children and adults should stay home until 24 hours after their fever is gone without using fever-reducing medication.

Stock up. Purchase tissues, cleaning supplies and foods that are easy to prepare in case you need to stay home for seven to 10 days.

Ask your employer about leave policies. Think about how you and your family will handle work and childcare responsibilities for a week or two if someone is sick. If the flu virus becomes more severe, local health departments may recommend that sick family members stay home for at least seven days, even if they feel better sooner.

Reassure your children. The sheer frequency of news reports about H1N1 may frighten your children. So ask them about any concerns, explain the facts and teach them the basic steps they can take to stay healthy.

Contact your children's school. See if your school staff is reinforcing the basic prevention steps and if they are providing a temporary isolation room where sick children can stay until caregivers pick them up. If your children get sick, ask teachers to send home class assignments. When they are ready, help your children catch up. Find out how your school will notify parents of school closure if it becomes necessary.

Health officials currently believe most schools can stay open if their students catch the H1N1 virus. However, school administrators should work closely with local health departments when making school closure decisions, particularly if a lot of students and staff are sick.

If you or your children do catch the H1N1 virus, call your doctor with any concerns. Get lots of rest so you can soon take those walks through the crisp falling leaves.

Mary Lou Rush, Ph.D., is executive director of the Ohio Department of Education's (ODE's) Center for Students, Families and Communities. An educational psychologist, her primary responsibility at ODE is to recommend policies and practices that help schools create safe and healthy learning environments.