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With flu season (and the threat of the dreaded H1N1 virus) upon us, thoughts turn to protecting ourselves and our families from infection. My family's been hit and we're being warned that the season has just begun.

Many manufacturers would have us running to the drugstore to load up on antibacterial soaps, gels and sprays, but your doctor may be advising that hand washing alone is enough. Different professionals will tell you different things. If you want to keep you and your family healthy, how do you know what to do?

There are some good sources of unbiased information so I checked out the Center For Disease Control (CDC) website. Here are their guidelines on helping to combat the latest threat posed by the H1N1 Flu Virus, including just how to wash your hands:

Take these everyday steps to protect your health:

1. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
2. Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
3. Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
4. If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
5. Keep away from others as much as possible to keep from making others sick.  

Other important actions that you can take are:

- Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds and other social distancing measures.
- Be prepared in case you get sick and need to stay home for a week or so; a supply of over-the-counter medicines, alcohol-based hand rubs,* (60% alcohol) tissues and other related items might could be useful and help avoid the need to make trips out in public while you are sick and contagious  

What is the best technique for washing my hands to avoid getting the flu?

Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. Wash with soap and water or clean with alcohol-based hand cleaner. CDC recommends that when you wash your hands — with soap and warm water — that you wash for 15 to 20 seconds. When soap and water are not available, alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers may be used. You can find them in most supermarkets and drugstores. If using gel, rub your hands until the gel is dry. The gel doesn't need water to work; the alcohol in it kills the germs on your hands.

My own research shows that when choosing an alcohol based gel or rub, that it should contain a minimum of 60% alcohol in order to be effective. And, stay away from those containing antimicrobials such as triclosan or benzalkonium chloride. They may contribute to skin allergies and are not necessary when an appropriate concentration of alcohol is present in the rub.

Sharmani Pillay is a Registered Pharmacist who specializes in anti aging skin care and women's wellness. She owns and operates an online skin care store at [Link Removed].
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