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Calm, planning can be best flu defense

The best way Queens residents can protect themselves from the swine flu or any other health threat is by drawing up an emergency plan for the family and keeping a level head, according to a mental health specialist.

Anthony J. Maffia, vice president of psychiatry and addiction services for Jamaica Hospital and Flushing Hospital, said too many people have flocked to emergency rooms fearing they have the swine flu strain, known as the H1N1 virus, even though they have less serious aliments.

Although the virus had killed three Queens residents as of Tuesday, Maffia said residents should not be too concerned if they know all the information about the virus.

“We are dealing with a disease that is of an unknown quality. People don’t understand the unknown,” he said.

Maffia recommended that people first get as much information about the virus as they can from expert sources, such as the city Health Department or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

“Once you (have) the knowledge, you can control what’s around you,” he said.

The licensed clinical social worker also advised that families should create health emergency plans for situations like the swine flu outbreak. They can be prepared by stocking up on hand sanitizers, medication and emergency contacts, according to Maffia.

“For emergencies like hurricanes, people have plans for their houses. That should be the same for the flu,” he said.

The Health Department does not have a vaccine for the virus as of yet and has instructed New Yorkers to take extra measures to protect themselves, such as washing their hands frequently and covering their mouth when they cough.

Maffia said the most important thing people can do is not to let the media coverage of the outbreak cause undue anxiety. Although he said it is important that families stay on top of the issue, he said overexposure to images such as New Yorkers walking around in surgical masks frightens the public.

“If you do watch the news, you should talk with your kids and let them know that everybody is doing the best that they can. It minimizes the amount of fear that they have,” he said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e−mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 146.

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