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Doctor: Learn elbow greeting to lower swine flu risk

BRADENTON — Ban the handshake — that’s Dr. Joe Soler’s advice for avoiding swine flu, which appears to be spreading fast in certain areas of the United States, Mexico, Canada, New Zealand and Europe.

When Soler and his colleagues greet patients at Pinnacle Urgent Care, 315 75th St. W., they look like they are doing a do-si-do as they tap their elbows to say hello.

Soler, the medical director of Pinnacle Urgent Care Center, has been avoiding shaking hands with patients and friends “It’s the only safe way to greet someone,” Soler says. “Flu and cold germs spread when people touch their hands to their mouths, eyes or nose.“

With swine influenza virus becoming a concern in this country, the touching elbows technique will rapidly replace the handshake as a social greeting and serve as a public health tool,” predicts Soler, who wants to start a campaign to spread the new greeting. He believes it could go a long way in keeping Manatee County residents healthy.

“One can even argue that it could save thousands, if not millions of dollars due to illness and lost work,” he said.

Soler’s advice reinforces recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control as well as state and local health officials.

Residue from a cough or sneeze of an infected person moves through the air and germs are spread through a touch by another person or when people touch surfaces like a desk. Someone touching a germ-infested surface and then touching their eyes, mouth or nose before washing their hands makes them vulnerable to the disease, the CDC warns.

Some viruses and bacteria can live two hours or longer on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs, and desks, according to the CDC. Frequent hand washing will help you reduce the chance of getting contamination.

While there is no vaccine available right now to protect against the swine flu, people can help protect themselves from infection by practicing these CDC recommended steps:

n Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.

n Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.

n Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.

n Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

n If you get sick with influenza, CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.

Soler would add, start swinging those elbows in friendly greeting. “Let’s start early in Manatee County to break the chain of contagion,” he said.

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