Its October, have you had your flu shot yet?

In their first month of school, your kids probably came in contact with a host of viruses, but there are a few in particular that concern public health officials: those that cause the seasonal flu and H1N1.

Experts are expecting a long, hard flu season this year — and they’ve got a good-news-bad-news message for us about H1N1: While most people who contract it get a relatively mild case, it is expected to spread quickly and easily among people age 25 and under.

Here’s what you can do to protect your family and your community:
1. Wash your hands! Viruses can live on surfaces for two to eight hours. Teach your kids to wash before putting anything in their mouths and after sneezing or coughing. And lead by example. If you choose to use hand sanitizers, look for ones that are at least 62 percent alcohol. Some people are also avoiding water fountains, figuring that not all users know to keep their hands and mouths away from the spout.

2. Sick people should stay home from school or work — and stay away from other family members as well, not hang out in the kitchen or family room — for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone. Make a plan now for handling work or other obligations should you have to stay home with your child.

3. Don’t keep your kids home from school if H1N1 is circulating. This is a tough one for parents, but public health officials are relying on sick people to stay home, rather than shutting down schools and work places.

4. Get both the seasonal flu shot and the H1N1 shot. They are not the same. Seasonal flu vaccinations have been available since late August. As we go to press, experts are estimating that the H1N1 vaccine will be available in mid-October.

5. Know the symptoms. The common cold and influenza are two different things. (And what we call “the stomach flu” is not actually the flu at all.) Symptoms of H1N1 include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue; some people report diarrhea and vomiting.

When we asked readers of our weekly e-newsletter, Minnesota Parent This Week, how they were planning to protect their families from the flu, we got plenty of thoughtful responses — most of which jibe with these recommendations, although a couple of parents noted that they plan to skip the vaccines.

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