Sunday, April 26, 2009

Pandemic Flu?

Unless you have been totally incommunicado over the weekend, you have probably heard that there is a swine flu outbreak which started in Mexico and is now spreading. As of this writing, there have been more than 80 deaths in the last couple of days attributed to this virus. I knew something was wrong when alerts from various health agencies started flooding my inbox--these people are notoriously cautious with alerts so that's an alert in itself that something is up. Here's my take on the situation:
  • Don't panic. That's always my first piece of advice. The media likes to inspire panic in the masses because it raises ratings but until there is a reason to panic, don't.
  • Get your news from a trusted source. I like Fox news because Dave Ramsey's show is on their network but if I am looking for medical information, I will go to the CDC's website. Other good sources of information can be found at your state and local health department websites and your state and local Department of Emergency Management websites. I also briefly scan the media (CNN, etc) as well as international media sources for new or unusual information on the topic.
  • Know the basics about flu. There is the standard flu which makes you feel like you got ran over by a truck but does no permanent damage (this flu can and does kill people--usually the very young, the very old, or the already sick). Then there are the more virulent strains (Asian flu, bird flu, Hong Kong flu, swine flu). These types of flus can be mild or serious, and often spread quickly and easily. When a particular strain of flu is seen in a population with no immunity to it and passes quickly from person to person, you can get a pandemic. These types of flu can be deadly (usually due to respiratory problems) and often kill healthy 20-50 year olds. Flu vaccines often don't work for unusual strains of the flu virus which can mutate from animals (pigs, birds, monkeys) to humans, changing components of the virus as it goes.
  • Passing the flu around. The flu is spread like other viruses, by contact with infected people. The infected person coughs or sneezes and the droplets from their nose or mouth can get onto other people causing them to become infected. Most often someone coughs into their hand, shakes hands with another person, the other person rubs their eye with their newly infected hand and "ta da" the virus has been spread.
  • How to protect yourself. Keep your distance from people (you don't know if the healthy looking person you are talking to is infectious but at least if you are a few feet away from them, they can't sneeze on you). Wash your hands regularly. Don't touch your face with your hands. Don't spread your germs around to others. If you are sick, stay home so you won't infect others.
  • Preparedness tips. Take extra precautions if you will be traveling in areas where outbreaks are occurring. Gather up your "flu meds" before you need them (Tylenol, thermometer, cough syrup, etc). In highly contagious areas or when caring for people infected with the flu, wear a mask.
  • When to seek help. Like any medical situation, you should go to the hospital if you have severe, possibly life threatening symptoms including difficulty breathing, very high fever, dehydration, altered level of consciousness, etc.
  • Pandemic concerns. When a flu spreads quickly and causes many deaths, you have a pandemic on your hands. This causes problems, including overwhelming the medical system (medical providers become ill which cuts the number of care providers, meanwhile so many people are sick that they overwhelm the hospital). Difficulty finding medication (over the counter medication may be bought up and hoarded; prescription meds such as Tamiflu will be in short supply and these can also be hoarded). The need for isolation and quarantine in order to keep sick people away from health people--this impacts the economy in many ways, especially when people can't work, can't earn money, then can't pay their bills. Should there be government enforcement of isolation or quarantine, you can image the havoc that will cause.
  • What I'm doing. Nothing yet. Even at the height of the bird flu in Asia in 2005, I traveled through Asia with no problem. Currently I have no plans to travel to Mexico, and even if I did, I would be more worried about getting caught in the middle of the narco war than catching the flu. That said, I do keep a daily eye on what is happening. Should swine flu infections and deaths be reported in my area, I will take extra precautions. I have my emergency food and medical supplies ready to go. I can easily stay home for a couple of month with no problem (although if everyone did this, our economy would be in more of a shambles than it is now).
  • Here's some more info: CDC swine flu guide. CDC Video. Caring for Someone With the Flu. Flu Care Information Sheets.

More information to follow should this situation become more serious...

1 comment:

  1. It is obvious that we have a pandemic (D.S.&T. 'wild card scenerio')of lab. modified swine flu. It possibly is an bio-attack; orchestrated by terrorist in the strategic Mexico City area. Your basic supplies of water, food, medical,extra clothing, sleeping bags, etc. should be stocked up on now. Don't forget a box of medical masks. Hope we will this time take serious pro-active measures needed to stop the flow of virus out of Mexico. Mexico must self-blockade!