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THEIR OPINION: Be ready to fight off the flu

BISMARCK -- We don't know what kind of flu season waits for us this fall, but the better prepared people are, the more people follow simple rules about hand-washing, coughing and staying home when sick, the lower the risk for trouble.

BISMARCK -- We don't know what kind of flu season waits for us this fall, but the better prepared people are, the more people follow simple rules about hand-washing, coughing and staying home when sick, the lower the risk for trouble.

Commonly known as swine flu, here it's referred to as H1N1 out of respect for producers of the other white meat.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has been pushing flu planning since H1N1 appeared in the United States earlier this year. The North Dakota Health Department has extensive information about H1N1 on its Web site ( www.ndhealth.gov ) and has been working with schools in the state to prepare for the flu season.

According to the CDC, H1N1 infection has been reported to cause a wide range of flulike symptoms, including fever (at least 100 degrees), cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. In addition, many people also have reported nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea. Students and teachers are asked to stay home if they exhibit the flulike symptoms and remain there until 24 hours after their temperature has returned to normal.

Expectations are that a flu vaccine will be available in October, although the distribution may be to vulnerable populations first because of low volume of vaccine. The vaccine for H1N1 requires two shots, three weeks apart, and both are necessary to make it effective.

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Most of what's been discussed so far has been about controlling H1N1 in schools, where large numbers of young people are brought together and the virus could pass quickly from one student to another. The same kinds of precautions can be translated to the workplace.

Local businesses should make plans for the challenges of a serious flu season. Workers with flulike symptoms should stay home. Hand-washing should be stressed by employers, as well as people coughing into their sleeve or tissue, which should be disposed of immediately. Businesses also might consider installing hand sanitizers or using disinfecting wipes.

It's not possible to hide from the H1N1 virus. However, if people follow the rules, there could be a minimum of lost school time or reduced business productivity.

The state health department and local schools are on track to do their part. The rest of us should prepare to do the same.

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