GENEVA (AFP) — No kissing, avoid handshakes, sneeze in the crook of your arm and wash your hands -- pandemics have a way of changing everyday life.
The World Health Organisation says that such simple measures are the best way to prevent the spread of even the most virulent virus.
Swine flu, or the A(H1N1) virus, has got a lot of people worried. Sales of hygienic masks have shot up in recent weeks.
But a WHO spokeswoman said: "Take the normal precautions you would do to seasonal flu or the common cold -- nothing more drastic than that. It's based on practical knowledge."
WHO director general Margaret Chan took exception recently to the traditional Swiss greeting between acquainted men and women, three kisses on each cheek.
"Maybe you don't do that any more -- don't hold each other and hug their face three times," Chan explained when announcing a previous rise in the six level pandemic alert to five.
"It's just an example to say continue with your business but try to pay special attention to personal hygiene," Chan added. Her staff were duly told to avoid kisses and hugs as well as handshakes.
Good manners nonetheless survive in the form of good "respiratory hygiene."
"Don't cough in people's faces," suggested WHO's acting assistant director general Keiji Fukuda. "Cover your mouth using (tissues) or your shirt sleeve to cough in and take a variety of steps like that."
Washing hands regularly with soap and water during the day can help keep the virus at bay and go some way to prevent transmission. Touching the mouth should also be avoided.
However, disposable face masks are only recommended for those who are ill, coughing or sneezing, or if you are caring for somebody who is vulnerable.
"You don't have to wear a face mask if you're not ill," the WHO spokeswoman said.
The WHO advises anyone feeling ill -- fever, coughing, a headache, muscle and joint pain or a sore throat -- to avoid work, stay at home and to inform family and friends as well as a doctor.
"If you are sick, if you have something which may be swine flu or any other illness it may be prudent to stay at home until you are better," said Fukuda.
"This is a way of voluntarily preventing yourself from transmitting infection perhaps to others."
Even staff at the United Nations in Geneva -- where dozens of nationalities rub shoulders and tread its corridors, offices and canteens -- were advised to stop shaking hands to reduce the risk of passing flu around.
"That doesn't apply to meetings of diplomats," a UN spokeswoman nonetheless qualified.
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