The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department has introduced two online tools that can be used as guides to help residents who think they or their children may have the flu.

Both tools are available on the Santa Barbara County H1N1 flu Web site.

One tool is specifically for children. It was developed by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, one of the top-rated children’s hospitals in the country. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta has given permission to Santa Barbara County to offer the tool to its residents.

The online tool is not a substitute for a parent’s judgment, and it can’t anticipate every possible medical situation. It serves as another source of information for parents. In the complicated world of H1N1 influenza, the online tool asks questions to help parents in assessing the health and needs of their children. It can help parents understand what steps to take if their child gets the H1N1 flu.

Another tool is specifically for people older than age 18. It was developed by Emory University based on what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined were key risk factors for a bad flu outcome. The tool assists in deciding whether a doctor’s attention is needed.

For most people, prevention is the best strategy. The health department urges parents and children to follow six steps to decrease the spread of H1N1 flu and lessen the chance of becoming ill.

» Get the seasonal flu vaccine and the H1N1 vaccine when it’s available based on your age and medical condition.

» Wash your hands frequently or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

» Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

» Sneeze or cough into your upper arm or sleeve to avoid contaminating your hands.

» Stay home when you’re ill to avoid spreading illness to others.

» Avoid contact with others who are ill.

Click here for more information on the department’s Web site. To access the online tool, click on “Does My Child Have the Flu?” at the bottom of the Web page. For other questions, call the H1N1 information line toll-free at 888.722.6358.

— Susan Klein-Rothschild is a public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.