If you’re like most of us, you know more than you ever wanted to about swine flu, or under the more scientific name the World Health Organization (WHO) has been using: Influenza A(H1N1).
The name change is an effort to limit the confusion over any connection to pigs or pig products. Besides the unfortunate name, swine flu has no connection to pigs other than having some swine flu genetic sequences.
As of 12 May 2009, 30 countries have reported 5,251 cases of influenza A(H1N1). Mexico reports 2,059 lab confirmed human cases of infection, including 56 deaths. The United States reports 2,600 laboratory confirmed human cases, with three deaths. Canada reports 330 laboratory confirmed human cases and one death. Costa Rica reports eight laboratory confirmed human cases and one death.
Not surprisingly mixed messages on the risks of travel using mass transit have only added to the confusion and fear.
Still the World Health Organization continues to make no restriction on travel of any kind, or suggest the closing of borders.
Interesting that Continental Airlines, the largest U.S. air carrier to Mexico, is cutting back flights by 40%, but will still serve all 29 Mexican destinations.
The good news seems to be that the strain, while spreading widely. may not be as severe as first feared. Experts already know that this flu does not contain some of the genes that made the 1918 Spanish flu so deadly.
However, in 1918 the first wave of sickness was relatively mild, the second was the dangerous, deadly one. No one can say that won’t happen this time as well.
Experts are convinced they will be able to create a vaccine for A(H1N1) and work is already underway.
The trouble is, vaccine making and distributing isn’t an exact science or a quick process, not to mention the calculated risk scientists take every year in choosing which strains of flu to protect against.
The earliest we’re likely to see any type of A(H1N1) vaccine is four to six months, this fall perhaps.
In the meantime, what can you do to keep yourself healthy?
Here are some common sense suggestions from the experts.
1. Wash your hands as much as possible.
This is the best thing you can do to stay healthy. Wash your hands with soap and water frequently, as the A(H1N1) flu is spread by the droplets from coughing or sneezing that are released into the air. When these get on your hands, everything you touch becomes a potential source of infection.
How you wash is key – most of us aren’t washing well enough or long enough – you’ll need to use the warmest water you can, lather up with soap and rub you fingers, palms, and even under your nails and up to your wrists for two choruses of “Happy Birthday”.
If you’re without soap and water, hand sanitizers serve very well and come in a variety of sizes.
When you wash is also super important.
Be sure to wash up before you eat or prepare food for others, after using the bathroom, or after using a tissue or your hands to cover up a sneeze or cough.
The virus droplets don’t seem to float in the air, but rather settle on objects you touch everyday smooth objects more than rough or porous ones.
It’s the common things we all handle like coins and bills, hand rails, door knobs and other household objects, as well as those essentials around the office like pens, staplers and phones that can harbor all manner of germs.
When taking care of someone who is ill, it’s a good idea to wash your hands more often, especially after direct contact with them or things they’ve used, including laundry.
2. Cover up when you cough or sneeze.
By using your shoulder, or the crook of your elbow to capture the droplets that come form a cough or sneeze you contain the infectious droplets. Wash your hands right away.
A surgical face mask can be an option that helps to keep your respiratory droplets to yourself. Still this isn’t a better option than washing your hands, and used improperly can do you more harm than good. Masks must be used according to the instructions and only for the length of time suggested by the manufacturer.
Face masks can be helpful if you are caring for another person who is ill.
3. If you’re sick, stay home.
Sure it’s hard to give in to feeling sick, especially in our got-to-be-everywhere, do-everything world, but this is exactly what experts suggest you do.
If you start developing flu-like symptoms – aches, fatigue, fever, coughing or sneezing – don’t push yourself to go to work.
Don’t try to tough it out either, as there are some treatments that can shorten the length and severity of your illness.
Call your doctor for advice or an appointment, especially if you’ve traveled to Mexico recently or have an underlying health condition.
You’ll also want to wash you hands often, dispose of tissues right away, and sleep alone.
Once you recover, air out your sleeping space and change your bedding, washing sheets, towels and pajamas in the hottest water possible.
4. Don’t touch your face.
This is the survival tip that’s the hardest to do as it’s such a natural impulse. Sometimes being aware of a need not to touch makes it even more difficult. Still, it’s super important to try to keep your hands away from these mucous membranes – eyes, nose and mouth – all direct routes to the bloodstream.
When you bring germs to your face you bypass the natural protective barrier, this route inside is direct and undefended.
While it’s not easy, by keeping your hands away from your face, you do yourself a big favor. By keeping your hands super clean, you’re likely to deliver as little infectious material as possible to this area when you do give into the impulse (or need) to touch your face.
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Swine Flu Survival Tips You Need To Know continued…
5. Stay away from sick people.
Also, not easy to do, especially if you’re a parent (or spouse) of someone struggling with A(H1N1) flu, or you have a coworker who simply refuses to call in sick, even when they are.
Limit your time with this person as much as possible. Up your hand washing after whatever contact you do have. Use a face mask if you must be very close or the person is coughing or sneezing quite a bit.
Of course, common sense should tell you not to drink from this person’s cups, share utensils or use the phone of anyone with flu-like symptoms, a cough, fever or sneezing.
Encourage co-workers to go home (or stay home) if they aren’t feeling well. Remember that you can be contagious for a day before you feel ill… and up to seven days once the coughing, sneezing, fever and feeling miserable come on.
With such a rapidly changing situation, your best defense against A(H1N1) flu is to say informed – using Word Health Organization or Centers for Disease Control resources.
Of course it’s scary to think that a microscopic organism can move at will across the world and send so many of us healthy, far-more-advanced creatures to our beds. It’s hard to imagine something so small can really be that powerful. But it can.
To your good health,
Daily Health Bulletin Editor