These days I have to constantly remind myself that regular folks are not in the intense information loop I am in on the H1N1 virus. Regular folks are worrying about regular things and this topic is just barely beginning to hit their radar with the recent additional attention it has been given in the mainstream media. So, it is not at the forefront of everyone’s mind – yet.
The conversation on H1N1 began in earnest in the emergency management and public health communities in April and never really stopped. As we inched closer to the return of students to schools and colleges en masse we have seen a greater push by the key players such as the CDC, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Education to get more information out. The theme – plan for the worst, but hope for the best – is being reiterated at every turn.
It is really scary to think about “the worst” and even I shy away from thinking like that. The worst will likely not come without some sort of mutation in the virus, but given the opportunistic nature of influenza it is a distinct possibility. I am hopeful that we will escape "the worst", but as the theme goes we still plan for it.
I like to focus on the probable. The CDC predicted back in late July that without a successful vaccine and prevention campaign up to 40% of Americans could get the swine flu this year and next year. Most folks won’t likely have an opportunity to get the H1N1 vaccine until early 2010. Identified priority groups will likely see vaccinations begin in mid-October, but won’t be immune until a week or two after the second vaccination (which in a best case scenario will be late-November). The priority groups are ranked as well, so even some of the priority groups will not be able to receive the vaccine until a bit later.
I read an article yesterday that gave early case counts from selected colleges and universities across the country. H1N1 is showing no sign off abatement and even prior to hitting the start of flu season (October 1) is proving to be a challenge for school and college planning teams. In my planning discussions with community partners I primarily focus on the absenteeism factor and the impact that will have on services, supplies, etc. and the importance of preventative actions.
But what is the reality for regular folks? We still need to work and function on a day-to-day basis and the good news is you can take realistic steps to protect yourself from getting the virus and prepare for the event that you do. I encourage folks to visit flu.gov which is a collection point for many valuable resources. I include below an excerpt from an email that went out to NDSU faculty, staff and students that I believe covers preventative basics that make sense for everyone.
1. Wash your hands frequently. This is particularly necessary after coughing or sneezing and before eating. Effective hand washing requires wetting your hands and cleansing them with soap for 20 seconds (this is the time it would take to sing the Happy Birthday song twice). When you cannot wash your hands use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that has at least 60% alcohol in it.
2. Cover your coughs and sneezes. When possible cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, throw out the tissue after one use and wash your hands. When you do not have a tissue handy, cough into your elbow or upper arm (into clothing if possible). The goal is to keep germs off your hands and to protect others from being exposed to your germs.
3. Avoid touching your face. By touching your face particularly your eyes, nose and mouth, germs that are on your hands have the opportunity to spread to these areas.
4. Avoid touching commonly touched surfaces with your hands when possible. To the extent that it is possible, avoid touching areas that may contain germs from others’ hands. This is obviously difficult to do at times. The best remedy for dealing with commonly touched surfaces that may contain germs is to wash your hands frequently and to avoid touching your face.
5. Avoid close contact with people who are coughing or exhibiting other flu symptoms. The primary symptoms of flu are coughing, fever, fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea. To protect yourself from contracting the virus, exercise caution when dealing with others that you believe are ill. Keeping a distance of six feet is the best mechanism by which to do so.
6. Call your medical provider if you are experiencing flu symptoms. Medical facilities will have their hands full dealing with this virus, call your medical provider if you have symptoms and based on your general health condition and current status they will advise you as to whether you need to actually visit the doctor.
7. Stay home if you are sick. If you have flu symptoms stay home at least 24 hours after you no longer have a fever (100 degrees Fahrenheit or 38 degrees Celsius) or the signs of a fever (chills, feel warm, sweating, flushed appearance). This determination must be made without fever-reducing medications. If medication is still required to reduce the fever, stay home at least 24 hours after medication is no longer needed.
8. Get the seasonal flu vaccination when it becomes available. The seasonal flu vaccine will not protect you from the H1N1 virus, but it will protect your immune system from being compromised and additionally vulnerable from a bout with seasonal flu. The H1N1 immunization will not be available until mid-October at the earliest and even then it will go to high priority groups first. Additionally, the immunization is a two shot series that will not provide protection until about five weeks after the initial shot. You should not plan on receiving the H1N1 immunization prior to the end of the semester. The seasonal flu vaccination however will be available soon and will help protect you from other flu strains that could diminish your immune system and increase your vulnerability to H1N1.
Practice healthy behaviors and stay well; and, if you do become ill, stay home. To read more about other steps you can take read my Do 5 Things blog from July.
Day fifty-five of the new forty – obla di obla da