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Precautions for a Safe, Flu-Free Thanksgiving

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November 25, 2009

PORTLAND, Ore. - Being invited to a big Thanksgiving get-together could be seen as a mixed blessing this year, with almost 1,200 Oregonians hospitalized with flu symptoms in the past three months. There may be more hand sanitizer than gravy on the table when families gather this week, but health officials say with a little common sense, it's possible to have a healthy holiday get-together despite the H1N1 flu virus.

At CareOregon, Health Education Coordinator Denise Johnson suggests using paper towels and napkins rather than cloth - these also can be used to turn faucets and open doors - and stocking restrooms with plenty of tissues, soap and sanitizer; She says erasable markers can be used on glassware to identify everyone's cup, to keep from accidentally spreading germs.

"You can really make that fun - see who can be creative in decorating their glasses. That way, someone is not picking up someone else's glassware, using someone else's utensils. It's also a great way to break the ice."

Johnson says frequent hand-washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and using utensils instead of hands to serve foods cannot be overemphasized. For anyone with flu-like symptoms or questions, she advises a call to the Oregon Public Health Flu Hotline. It is open every day, including Thanksgiving.

"It's a great line that is staffed by nurses. Callers can get in and get information about preventive care, if they have concerns about their exposure to flu - whether they should take their daughter, their son, their relative to the hospital."

The hotline number is toll-free, 1-800-978-3040. Above all, says Johnson, don't be offended if people offer fewer hugs or handshakes. It's nothing personal, just a precaution that could keep both parties from getting sick. If any member of a household comes down with the flu, it is smarter to stay home - or if you're the host, even cancel a gathering. Perhaps this year more than ever, everyone will understand. Oregon has had 49 flu deaths since September 1.

The latest statewide flu information is posted online at www.flu.oregon.gov.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR