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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

How and Why to Prepare for Swine Flu

This is a bit long, but for those of you who are interested, I hope it contains information that will help you in your preparedness efforts for Swine Flu.

By now, most people are well aware of the fact that swine flu is still making its way across the country and picking up speed in the Southeast where schools have been in session since early August.

Just last week in TN alone, a 5 year old died in Nashville (sick on Friday, died on Monday – that’s quick folks), a 5 year old died in Chattanooga and a 13 year old has died in Memphis. Pediatrics are being hard-hit by this virus, so we must be vigilant in our preparedness actions.

Most of what is causing deaths is not the swine flu itself, but a viral pneumonia that hits some people along with the swine flu. Some also are getting a bacterial pneumonia that is very antibiotic resistant. And some perfectly healthy people are experiencing what is known as a cytokine storm – their immune system goes to work too well and overwhelms their lungs fighting off the virus - in essence they drown. Research so far is showing that in many of those who have died due to “swine flu”, their lungs look remarkably like those who died from Bird Flu (H5N1). There are avian components to this flu, in addition to swine and human.

Overall, the death rate from this particular strain of H1N1 is very low. In reality, there is little you can do other than the usual good hygiene to try to avoid getting this virus. However, you just never know when you are going to touch a door handle, shopping cart, ATM touch pad, bank ink pen, gas pump handle or something else that has the flu virus on it.

Even if you homeschool and are relatively out of the mainstream, you need to consider all the opportunities for exposure you still have: church, the grocery store, the bank, the post office, the gas station, homeschool events, etc. And if there are children in your neighborhood who attend public or private school and your children play with them, they might as well be in the same classroom with them, because they will be exposed to whatever is in that school.

I’ve been tracking and researching this virus daily since it first appeared this April. I’ve watched what happened in the southern hemisphere – to our neighbors in Australia – during our summer (their winter). The unique thing about this H1N1 virus is that it is ideally suited for both summer and winter due to its unique genetic makeup with swine and avian flu components.

Also unique is that over 50% of the people who get the H1N1 flu never have fever. H1N1 flu is a form of Influenza A. At this time of year, approximately 99% of the flu being seen in our country is H1N1, since seasonal flu likes the cold and hasn’t gotten started yet.

In Australia, although deaths were relatively low, the flu did overwhelm their medical facilities in many places because everyone was going to the doctors and emergency rooms. Elective surgeries were canceled. Physicians and nurses got sick. Some refused to come to work. Some orderlies refused to clean up after flu patients.

In Europe, some children have died after being misdiagnosed OVER THE PHONE on a medical hotline.

Think about this for a minute – if you were pregnant and planning a hospital birth, would you really want to have to go to a hospital inundated with swine flu to give birth? If ambulances are backed up taking sick flu patients to the hospital, what happens to the severe traffic accident on the way to work in the morning? You need to think about the greater impact of the flu than just the sickness. You must think about the overall impact to your way of living, because this flu might cause some minor to major disruptions in the way you are accustomed to doing things.

That said there are several ways we can prudently prepare for the swine flu in our areas this fall and winter.

First, you need to make sure that you have everything you need at your home to care for a family member that might get sick with this flu. Medications, soothing foods and drinks for rehydration, disinfectants, laundry detergent, dishwashing detergent, perhaps gloves for cleaning, N95 face masks to protect those in the family who aren’t sick, separate toothpaste tubes for each family member, separate hand towels for each family member, a working thermometer, a humidifier – anything that comforts you when you are sick – make sure you have it on hand NOW. You don't want to wait until you need it and you certainly don't want to wait for tons of people to get sick and stores to be out of what you need.

Basically, think about what you might need to get through 2-4 weeks of flu making the rounds of your family. If someone gets the flu in your family, the CDC recommends that all other family members who have been exposed plan to stay at home from school and work for at least 5 days to avoid transmitting the virus to others. If you do get the flu, the CDC recommends staying at home for a full 24 hours after your last fever (without fever meds) before going back out into public.

If you like to scratch cook, you might want to consider taking a weekend and making a few foods to put in the freezer that could be pulled out and heated by any family member – things like meatloaf, lasagna, soup, stew and the like. Have easy breakfast items like oatmeal or cereal. Keep some powdered milk on hand. If you run out of fresh milk, believe me you can use powdered milk in oatmeal and cereal and hardly tell the difference.

Mom or Dad, if you are the primary cook, think about what your family can make for themselves if you get sick. Perhaps you want to get some easy to make or heat items that even younger children can make – cans of soup, ravioli, fruit cocktail, peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter and crackers, cheese sandwiches and the like. This is the time to have some easy to make meals on hand.

Having someone sick in the home means you will be doing more laundry. Make sure you have plenty of soap, laundry detergent, dishwashing detergent and/or liquid, hand sanitizer, toothpaste. You’ll want to make sure you have new toothbrushes on hand to give everyone after illness runs through your family. It is a good idea for everyone to have their own tube of toothpaste anyway to keep germs from spreading. Don’t keep all the toothbrushes all together in one place bumping into each other. Keep them separated so germs aren’t being passed from one to the other.

Have plenty of towels and washcloths on hand and ready to go. Cold washcloths on the throat and forehead help with nausea. And for little children, we line their beds and the hallway with towels all the way to the bathroom. Believe me, it is much easier if someone gets sick to pick up a towel and wash it then have to strip the whole bed and remake it.

You can get small buckets or waste cans that children can use by their bed as sick pans if you don’t want them trying to make it down the hall to get sick and spread their germs everywhere.

If your whole family ends up at home for several days, you will want to have things on hand to keep everyone occupied. CDs, DVDs, books, readers, workbooks, coloring books, pencils, crayons, sticker books – we keep several items such of these tucked away so we can pull out something new whenever the need might arise.

Remember that if you aren’t leaving the house, you might need to have some cash at home – you never know when you might need something delivered; perhaps a neighbor or relative is willing to run an errand for you and you’ll need to be able to reimburse them.

Make sure to keep gas in the tanks of your cars. If someone needs to go to the emergency room in the middle of the night, you certainly don’t want to have to stop for gas first. We never let our tanks get below ½ full in case an emergency comes up.

It also pays to think about what might happen if the flu takes a severe turn and there are quarantines in your area. Imagine that your city or county is placed under a 7-14 day quarantine. No going out of your homes for any reason. How prepared are you for something like that to happen?

Even if there are no mandatory quarantines in your area, are you prepared to self-quarantine if necessary to protect your family? What are your parameters? What has to happen to trigger a self-quarantine for your family? It pays to think some of these things through.

If you have questions about the risk factors for flu for any of your family members, be sure to talk to your family doctor. Have a plan. Know what you need to do for those in your family who are in a higher risk group (those with asthma, diabetes or pregnancy). Know ahead of time what your parameters are for going to the doctor or hospital if someone in your family gets sick. Obviously, if we all rush to the doctor at the first sign of a cough and muscle aches or fever, our medical facilities will be over-run.

Know if your doctor will prescribe Tamiflu or Relenza over the phone. Know whether or not you even want to take either of these medications to begin with. Do your research. The FDA has a warning letter about Tamiflu use in pediatrics. You can read it here: Tamiflu Warning Letter. Know that there have been many identified cases of Tamiflu-resistant H1N1. Know that Tamiflu and Relenza are not cures for the flu – they are just supposed to reduce the severity and duration.

Right now it appears that the H1N1 vaccine will not be available until sometime between mid-October and November. It is planned for 2 doses, approximately one month apart. It is estimated that it will then take approximately 2 weeks for immunity after both vaccines. This means late this year for most people - around the end of December or so. You need to be prepared that swine flu might visit you before you are ever able to get in line for a vaccine. Know that even if you get the vaccine, you might still get H1N1 flu – especially if the virus mutates so that it is significantly different from what is contained in the vaccine. Know if the vaccine is even the right choice for you or your family – do your research and be an informed consumer.

Remember that it is important that we don’t panic, but that we arm ourselves with knowledge and do the preparations NOW that are necessary to keep our families as safe and healthy as possible.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful post! Great tips and helpful info.-Shelly

Tovah said...

I've got a question TPN, I can not figure out why people are treating this virus any differently for the normal flu. I can't find any evidence that it is more threatening to our health. What do you think?

azurevirus said...

Great post...I try to always hit walmarts after 10 pm..later if possible as the store is pretty much emptied by then(less ppl less germs being spread theory)..always carry a bottle of Germ-X with me..apply to hands before getting into truck so not to get the germs all over the interior ie: steering wheel shifter door handle etc..disinfecting Clorox Wipes also are good for wiping stuff down to help contain the spread of the nasties .

Prepared In TN said...

Tovah - well since this virus is brand new, we really do not know how it will act, how it might mutate, or what other problems it will cause.

Normal seasonal flu typically hits the elderly the hardest. Most seasonal flu deaths occur in the elderly.

But this swine flu is not really hitting the elderly much at all - but it is hitting pediatrics hard (ages 0 - 18). In the research I've done, in a typical seasonal flu year, 40-60 pediatrics die. Since April of this year, we've had approximately 111 pediatric deaths attributed to swine flu.

Also, research has shown that in some people, this virus is attacking the lungs very hard. We know there are avian components to this flu and researchers are saying that in many of the people who died due to ARDs-type distress from this flu, their lungs looked like they had been attacked by Bird Flu (H5N1).

Additionally, even if this flu is not very deadly or does not turn out to be exceptionally serious - a death in your family is serious to you, no?

Also, the possibility of significant impacts on our medical facilities is what we are watching after seeing what happened in to many areas of Australia during their winter. After all, there are only so many ventilators to go around.

Jessie said...

Thank you Prepared.

Gen-IL Homesteader said...

Good post!

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