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01 May 2009 @ 12:20 am
What ifs and other worries...  
As the H1N1 influenza outbreak continues to spread, I thought I would post a few things regarding common questions and sensible, rational precautions. Now, I'm still not advocating freaking out, and I'm not saying that you need to enact these things yet, but if you are worried about needing to prepare for a pandemic, here are some things you can read and think about.

If you are worried that there won't be enough antiviral medications -
The stockpile on hand is something like 50,000,000 courses and the government is buying even more. Even if there were not enough to go around, remember that most cases of influenza are self-limiting. Yes, that this influenza is causing deaths sounds scary.... except that regular influenza kills thousands of people every year that we never hear about. It is possible that this is a worse-than-usual strain, it's still to early to be overly concerned. Unless the disease becomes much more deadly than we have seen in the US, antivirals will probably be safely limited to high-risk cases, vulnerable close contacts infected persons, and health care professionals exposed to infectious patients. I mean, really, the influenza antivirals have been on the market for some time - have you ever taken them for the usual seasonal influenzas? Most cases will be able to treated symptomatically with over-the-counter meds and with fluids, rest, and sleep. It sucks, but that's the breaks with viral illnesses.

If you are worried about how fast and how far this is spreading -
Remember that a large amount of this is related to spring break or school trips to Mexico and world-wide air travel. whymc  has often referred to college students as an epidemiologist's nightmare - kids from across the world come together, get overstressed, overtired, and then go on vacations all over the world together. The quick geographical spread is not really surprising in this age of airtravel.

If you decide to wear a face mask-
Most of the face masks probably won't help, unless they are rated to filter viruses or just work as a mechanical barrier to keep you from touching your mouth and nose. However, if you choose to wear one, make sure you are wearing it correctly. Each mask style is different, so I'm not going to try to summarize all of them, but you should read the directions carefully or whatever limited value they might have will be voided. But... it's just a face mask, you say. How could I put it on wrong, you say. Trust me. Even if y'all are more clever than the lady I saw in a news photo with her mask completely under her nose, face masks can be tricky to wear correctly - often the straps need to be in goofy places and there is usually a nosepiece that needs to be molded to fit. Read the directions. (And wash your hands while you're at it...)

If you want to prepare your household for an outbreak-
We are unlikely to see any major interruption of services, so you shouldn't need to worry about some of the "disaster preparedness" items on a lot of lists (i.e. it would be more than surprising if an influenza outbreak made any major city lose water or electricity). What you are really worried about is one of two situations: 1) you and your household contract the influenza and all feel like crap or 2) your city is hard hit and a partial or complete shut-down is ordered.

In case of the first eventuality, there are a few things you should have on hand. You will want to have some easy, low-prep or no-prep meals on hand so no one needs to cook while you feel crappy. You may also want to stock up on some basic medications and other comforts that will treat the symptoms of influenza. Be diligent about making sure you refill your prescription medications promptly and have an appropriate supply of toilet paper. Think about what will make you more comfortable - consider having a few books or movies or low-impact projects in mind, just in case. Also, organize your health care information - collect your insurance cards, put together at least a basic medical history, find out which urgent care takes your insurance or will see walk-in patients. If you are feeling ill, you're not going to want to look for these things.

In the second case, there is some pre-planning you can do to make the situation less stressful and/or boring.  If you have kids, what will you do if their school is canceled but your work is not? If you can or have to stay home with them, what are you going to do while at home for a week without friend visits, trips to museums, going to the movies, etc? (Avoid the horror of "I'm booooooored" 53 minutes into a quarantine.) For that matter, what will YOU do for a week, whether or not you have kids. Is there a project you'd like to get done? Do you have all the materials you would need to complete it? (I can imagine few more frustrating things than being close to finishing something and then running out of a critical part of a project and knowing it will be days before the store reopens...)

In either case, if things are starting to look hinky, consider being a little more diligent about keeping gas in the car and having a little extra cash on hand. I don't think we are likely to see any major interruptions in gas or banks, particularly with pay-at-the-pump and ATMs, but again these are things that could be annoying to deal with if you or someone in your household is acutely ill and you're trying to get to urgent care. 

The CDC page for individual planning is here. And the checklist is here.

Go wash your hands. ;)

Current Mood: calmcalm
Mariessaalienorh on May 1st, 2009 01:20 pm (UTC)
Thank heavens for sanity. Thanks for your posts.
eithni: greeneithni on May 2nd, 2009 01:31 am (UTC)
Happy to be helpy. :)