Common-sense methods taught you by your mother are the best way to cope with the threat of the H1N1 influenza virus, commonly called swine flu.

Wash your hands regularly. Cover your mouth when you cough. Eat healthy. Exercise regularly and get enough sleep.

This was the message of Dr. Frederick Browne, director of infectious disease at New Milford Hospital, and several local pediatricians on Sept. 10 at a New Milford Health Department and New Milford Hospital-sponsored forum on the virus held Sept. 10 at New Milford High School.

If you do come down with flu symptoms -- fever higher than 100 degrees, sore throat, body aches and diarrhea -- call your health care professional and stay home from work or school. Don't return until 24 hours after the symptoms subside without medication.

H1N1 strikes young people under 50. Older people have a body "memory" of this type of virus from when the swine flu epidemic struck in the 1970s, Dr. Browne said. As a result, they have some immunity to the present strain of virus.

Residents are encouraged to get their seasonal flu shot as soon as it is available. H1N1 vaccine is expected to be available in mid-October, and will be made available to those in the high-risk group first.

That group consists of pregnant women, child caregivers, health care workers, children between 6 months and 24 years old, and people with chronic or high-risk conditions between 24 and 64.

The H1N1 vaccine may require two doses, Dr. Browne said. That is still being decided.

"When you get a vaccination, your body is being told See this? This is bad. The next time you see this, you have to do something,' " Dr. Browne explained.

For most people who contract the flu, it is not expected to be life threatening, the panel of physicians said.

School closings due to an H1N1 outbreak are unlikely, they added. The Centers for Disease Control recommend keeping schools open with healthy children attending and sick children staying home, said Adele Johnson, director of student services for New Milford public schools.

"Closing schools doesn't break the epidemic," said Dr. Chip Barth II, a local pediatrician. "When schools are closed, kids hang out at a friend's, go to the mall -- they still interact and can spread the virus."

Parents whose children are home sick and diagnosed with H1N1 are encouraged to use the attendance call-in line and tell the school of the diagnosis so cases can be monitored.

For information on the H1N1 virus and preventive measures to avoid contracting it, visit the Web site www.newmilfordhealthdept.org.