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A Seasonal Gift: Flu Etiquette

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During this holiday season in the midst of one of the worst flu outbreaks in recent memory, etiquette means more than bringing a gift for the hostess and writing thank-you notes.

The new ''respiratory etiquette'' is pretty much the same as what moms have been preaching for years, says pediatrician Maxine Hayes, state health officer in Washington. Washington launched a ''Good Health Manners'' campaign last week to minimize the spread of colds and flu.

''We know people are just frantic because there is a shortage of the (flu) vaccine,'' Hayes said Monday. ''We are trying to let people know there are measures they can take to protect themselves.''

Western states have borne the burnt of this year's flu season, and Washington was one of the first to have a widespread outbreak. The good news is that the outbreak apparently has peaked in Colorado, one of the hardest-hit states.

But doctors in Eastern states are now bracing for more cases as holiday travelers spread the disease by trains, planes and automobiles.

If you want to minimize your chances of catching or spreading the flu, Hayes advises you to:

* Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze, cough or blow your nose.

* Use a tissue or handkerchief when possible.

* Wash your hands frequently.

* Stay home when you have a cough and fever.

* Don't drink beverages from anyone else's glass or mug. For that matter, don't taste any holiday goodies from anyone else's spoon or fork.

* If, after taking these precautions, you still end up at a doctor's office or in an emergency room, wear a face mask if asked.

Hayes sets a good example. She carries hand sanitizers with her at all times. At home, she has placed a bottle of it next to her refrigerator, which is adorned with a sign warning her children to clean their hands before they start rummaging through its contents.

And if you happen to run into Hayes over the holidays, she'd prefer a hug to a handshake. Hugs may seem a little forward, but unless you cough right in her face while embracing her -- how rude! -- you're more likely to pass on germs via hand-to-hand contact.

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