The scariest thing about Halloween this year may not be the creepy costumes and haunted houses.
It's a sniffle. A sneeze. A red-cheeked, glassy-eyed, feverish cast on the face of the kid next door who might be infected with — insert "Psycho" music here — swine flu.
"I see how people could be concerned. It's out there," said Debra Holtzman, a Florida mom and author of "The Safe Baby: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Home Safety and Healthy Living."
"It just adds to the things you're already worried about on Halloween."
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Government health officials reported this week that about 1 in 5 U.S. children had a flu-like illness this month, and that most of those cases were likely H1N1, or swine flu.
In the Wichita area, school attendance rates are well below normal for this time of year, with flu-like symptoms widespread among children and teachers.
Experts say there's no reason to cancel Halloween, however. Trick-or-treating is still safe as long as parents, children and candy-givers use common sense and take basic precautions.
"Safety has always been a concern on Halloween because it is one of the most dangerous nights of the year," Holtzman said.
Children are more than twice as likely to be hit by a car or seriously injured on Halloween than any other night, she said. Falls, cuts and burns also are common.
And now, flu.
"No. 1: If your child is exhibiting flu-like symptoms, it's not a good idea to go trick-or-treating," Holtzman said. "Stay home. Do something fun at the house. Tell spooky stories with flashlights.... It's not the end of the world."
Holtzman suggests that in addition to a fully charged cell phone and flashlight, parents take along alcohol-based hand wipes and adhesive bandages for minor cuts when accompanying children on Halloween night.
If you go out trick-or-treating or give candy at your house, "washing hands is so important," she said. "Wash hands or use alcohol-based wipes or hand sanitizers.
"And I suppose if people are really concerned, they can wear gloves. Make it part of the costume."