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State Health Department offers advice for preventing influenza

As the spread of the H1N1 novel influenza virus continues, the Minnesota Department of Health issued a list of recommendations Thursday to help reduce the likelihood of getting sick with flu:

- Cover your nose and mouth with your sleeve when you cough or sneeze.

- Clean your hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand cleanser.

- Clean your hands after shaking hands or having other close contact with other people -- before eating or preparing food, or touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

- Limit your contact with others who may be ill.

- Stay home from work or school, and generally avoid going out in public, if you are sick. Remain home for seven days or until 24 hours after your symptoms resolve, whichever is longer.

- Make sure to take enough fluids while you're sick.

- If you are an employer, encourage your employees to stay home if they are sick.

- If you do develop possible flu symptoms and you want to consult your health care provider, call before going in for an office visit. You may not need to go in, and if you do need to be seen, a time should be set up when you will not risk exposing others to influenza in the waiting room.

- People at risk for severe flu or flu complications should contact their health care provider if they have flu symptoms or have been exposed to people with flu symptoms. Those individuals include people with an underlying medical condition, pregnant women, young children, especially under age 2, and people 65 or older.

The state Health Department said Thursday that the number of confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus in Minnesota is rapidly growing. Over the past week it more than doubled, from 96 on June 4 to 221 as of Thursday. There have been 46 hospitalizations but no deaths in Minnesota yet.

A vaccine for this strain of influenza won't be available until fall.

How do you know if you have influenza? The symptoms are similar to other types of flu. They include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, fatigue, body aches, headache and chills. The onset is usually abrupt.