I received a handbook from the State of Alabama Department of Public Health yesterday about preparing for the pandemic flu. Since I have never received anything from this agency, I took it seriously. The handbook contained some good information on the pandemic flu that I felt compelled to pass on to others.
First, the facts on pandemic flu. A pandemic is a global outbreak of disease. The H1N1 virus is a new kind of virus that spreads easily between people. This makes it have the capability to be a pandemic. There have been three flu pandemics in the 20th century. In 1918, the “Spanish flu’ killed tens of millions of people worldwide and about 675,000 died in the United States. In 1957, the “Asian flu” killed about 2 million people worldwide and about 70, 00 in the United States. In 1968, the “Hong Kong” flu killed about 700,000 people worldwide and about 34,000 in the United States. A new pandemic flu is likely to spread quickly due to the fact that humans would have little natural immunity to the new flu, international travel, and densely populated areas. Experts believe a modern pandemic could kill up to 90,000 people in the U.S. if it is mild and almost 2 million if it is severe. A flu pandemic would devastate the economy of the world and strain community resources.
So what are the key difference between seasonal flu and pandemic flu? The seasonal flu occurs every year and is similar to previous flu viruses while a pandemic flu is a completely new virus and happens infrequently. The seasonal flu generally does not affect people who have been exposed to the same or similar virus in the past because they have developed immunity while a pandemic flu affects an unlimited number of people because no immunity to the virus has occurred. Vaccines are available for seasonal flu but vaccines to the pandemic flu may be limited or unavailable. The seasonal flu has complete recovery for most people while a pandemic flu can cause life-threatening complications in anyone. Finally, antivirals are usually available for the seasonal flu but effective drugs for the pandemic flu may be in limited supply.
So how do you prepare yourself and your family? First, get a flu shot. A seasonal flu shot will not protect you against pandemic flu but it will protect you against the seasonal flu, reduce the risk of severe complications from the seasonal flu, and prevent spreading the seasonal flu to others. Second, be healthy. Eat a healthy balanced diet, get regular exercise, and manage stress. Third, practice effective hand hygiene. Wash your hands with soap and water if hands are visible dirty or alcohol-based hand sanitizer isn’t available. Scrub hands and wrists for at least 15 seconds. Use a hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol when hands are not visibly dirty. Wash your hands when they are visibly dirty, before eating, after contact with people with flu symptoms, and after using the restroom. Fourth, practice cough and sneeze etiquette. If you are about to cough or sneeze : stay at least 6 feet from other people, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, throw the tissue away, use your upper sleeve (not your hands) if you have no tissue, and always wash your hands immediately afterward.
Fifth, if someone in your house or office has symptoms of the flu, disinfect shared objects and common areas. These include: countertops, sinks, doorknobs, tables, telephones, etc. Clean with soap and water then sterilize with bleach or rubbing alcohol. (For bleach solution – dilute ¼ cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water). Sixth, be careful around those who are sick or have symptoms. Protect yourself by: staying at least 6 feet away from people who are coughing or sneezing, do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth while near someone who is sick, and washing your hands immediately after contact with someone who is sixth. Last, if you are sick, avoid spreading germs. Stay home from work or school. Keep your distance from family and loved one.
What are the symptoms of the flu? Symptoms include: fever, headache, dry cough, aching muscles and joints, weakness or fatigue, sore throat, runny nose, and nausea or vomiting (in children). If you do get flu symptoms, call your doctor. If there’s some chance that you may have been exposed to pandemic flu, your doctor may want to take samples and send them away for testing. Whether you have seasonal flu or pandemic flu, taking prescription antiviral drugs like Tamiflu and Relenza could help. So long as they’re used within the first 48 hours of flu symptoms, the medications may help shorten recovery time. Antivirals may also help prevent seasonal or pandemic flu if you have been exposed to someone with flu symptoms. It is important to note that the pandemic flu may show different symptoms. Therefore, if you feel sick and have been around someone with the flu or have traveled to an area with a recent outbreak, call your doctor.
This article has been adapted from the Alabama Department of Public Health’s Handbook Health-Care Staff Handbook, Preparing for Pandemic Flu. National resources include: www.pandemicflu.gov , www.cdc.gov, and www.osha.gov.