Like a Boy Scout, Be Prepared

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Over the past few months you’ve been watching the swine flu stats thinking that the health pros cried wolf. It seems to have run its course and wasn’t as bad as everyone thought it was.

Unfortunately, it might not be over. You see, flu comes in waves and the same flu virus can come back for years of return visits. H1N1 swept the world outside of the traditional flu window and the next wave could coincide with the spread of the seasonal flu virus.

What is interesting about H1N1 is that it doesn’t attack the usual suspects, the old and infirm, but it seems to be attracted to the young and healthy. That distribution is the opposite of the usual flu-mortality profile, but scarily similar to the 1918 flu pandemic profile. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), while only 1% of the population is pregnant at any time, 13% of the 45 swine flu deaths reported from April 15 and June 16, 2009 were pregnant. All of the six pregnant mothers in the CDC study who died were healthy prior to infection of H1N1.

Historically, the second wave of a pandemic usually hits harder than the first, infecting more people, causing more serious symptoms and bringing greater mortality risk, so it is not over yet.

Education is key

Fear is not the answer, but education and preparation are. Keep your hands well washed and away from your face. Cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hand. Try not to share items with anyone, even family members but if you must, clean them before and after you use them.

Those blue masks that you see in photos – they’re not protecting you from others, they are protecting others from you by keeping the virus inside your mask. Only social distancing can protect you from others. If a pandemic is called, try to stay six feet away from others. Feel like you’re getting sick, then stay home. Yeah, I know that some of you might not have paid time off and are living hand to mouth, but you still need to stay home.

If this thing takes off then there very well could be food shortages. The public health department recommends that each home have two weeks of supplies, in case we must stay home – either for illness or to help contain transmission. That means two weeks of food for everyone in your home, two weeks of all medications (both over-the-counter and prescription), and, if you’re like most people, two weeks of entertainment.

Rules of Engagement

Let me summarize the rules of engagement so that you can print them out and tape them up somewhere.

  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue, toss it into a garbage can, then sanitize your hands. If you don’t have a tissue handy then cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hand.
  • Practice handwashing. Make it a game for the kids. Use plenty of soap and hot water and sing Happy Birthday or Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star twice while doing it.
  • Keep your hands away from your face. This is a new habit and hard to keep. We’re talking about not touching your face even (or especially) when you’re distracted. No propping your face up with your palm. No chewing on pens or pencils. No scrubbing your eyes. No rubbing (or picking) your nose. Pretend that you’re Emily Post and keep your hands in your lap.
  • Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer on every desk at work and room at home. Place a small one in every family member’s pocket, purse, or backpack. Use it frequently. Oh, and don’t wait until the last minute to buy them or you might find that the cupboard is bare. Ignore the expiration date – the liquid might separate and need to be shaken, but alcohol doesn’t expire. If you must sanitize your hands and don’t have any commercial sanitizer, 100 proof vodka works (hic!).
  • Don’t share items. Most flu virus is spread through droplets – which means virus on surfaces people touch. The more people touch an object (keyboards, phones, doorknobs, elevator buttons, bus straps/rails), the greater your chances of (literally) picking something up from it. In general, don’t touch those types of objects.
    • Tell teachers you don’t want everyone using those huge hall-passes to go to the bathroom – if ever there was a mass-transit system for germs, it’s those things. Every student should get a brand-spanking-new paper hall pass and they should toss it out when they come back to the classroom.
    • At work, everyone should have their own telephone headset. If you must share telephones, workstations, computers, two-way radios, etc. then everyone should be trained to wipe them down with alcohol-based antiseptic wipes at the end of their shift. Bus and taxi drivers, police and fire crews should wipe down the steering wheel, radio, microphone, etc. in their vehicles when they leave.
    • If you travel, wipe down the surfaces near your seat that people touch – the tray table, the armrests, the controls for AV equipment, and especially that in-flight phone if you think you might use it. And, on a plane flight, where you’re going to be sitting for hours, it’s probably worth the effort to wipe nearby objects down – and then wash/disinfect your hands with sanitizer after going to the plane’s toilet and touching that (ugh!) doorknob.
    • Get in line to be vaccinated. Since this flu is so different, the vaccination order is different too. Pregnant women, children and teens should be first in line.

In Summary

When flu seasons comes, you don’t need to hunker in your bunker. Ensure that you and your family are prepared. Don’t live in fear, live in knowledge. If you are sick, stay home and if someone at work seems to be sick, suggest that they might want to go home. Keep you hands clean and away from your face. Finally, live long and prosper (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).

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