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The Male Room

with Sheldon Marks, MD

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Swine Flu: Are You Prepared?

Most of us know how we handle tornadoes, hurricanes, massive snow storms…but what happens when the emergency is the flu and everyone is getting it? This will help to give you some basic guidelines.

Flu comes and goes. What makes swine flu so special and worth all the hysteria? For one, this flu is a never before seen combination of viruses with proven ability to kill. The fact that it has been found so quickly in so many places suggests it is especially aggressive.

What should you do when they announce a confirmed case of swine flu in your community? What can you do to reduce your chances of becoming infected? What should you do if you start to have symptoms of the flu? What should you do to prepare even if no flu is in your state, yet?

Right now, even if your home town or city does NOT have any evidence of swine flu, there are actions you should take NOW to get ready if it arrives.

It only makes sense to be prepared and think through what you might do if your community is found to have confirmed cases. Anyone that watches TV or reads online news or newspapers is aware that the world’s health officials are concerned, very worried in fact, about what could happen if this new form of flu takes off. With modern travel, the entire world could be engulfed in a new killer flu within a few days or weeks. Aspects of our lives we all take for granted could be gone. Life could be very different for some time. Though we all hope and pray this passes by without incident, it makes sense to take a few moments to think about what could happen and how you could reduce the risk to you and your family.

How should schools be handling emergency plans?
All schools should have emergency plans to close for at least 7 to 10 days if there is even a single student with suspected swine flu. Until then, all children at all ages should wash hands frequently throughout the day with soap and water as well as alcohol based gels. Students should be required to wash hands on arrival at school, when entering or leaving class, and at end of the day. Your child should stay away from any student or teacher that appears ill, coughs or sneezes. Chances are anyone even remotely sick will be sent home immediately.

What should parents look for?
Watch out for any signs of the flu in yourselves, your family and children. You might have just a few or all of these symptoms. Common signs of the flu include fever, chills, runny nose, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, vomiting or diarrhea. If you have these symptoms, you are very infectious and can spread the infection starting one day before the symptoms start until 7 days after the symptoms start.

How does the flu spread?
The flu virus spreads in tiny microdroplets when you cough or sneeze. Breathing in or touching droplets can give you the flu.

If I get the flu should I call my doctor or go the doctor’ office or to a hospital?
If you or a loved one comes down with any mild to moderate symptoms of the flu you should call your doctor for advice and direction. Do NOT go to the doctor’s office or emergency room or urgent care unless you are experiencing severe signs of the flu, including shortness of breath, chest pain, shortness of breath, dehydration or difficulty breathing. Those in a high-risk category to include young children, pregnant women, the elderly, those with chronic illness such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, asthma, bronchitis should be in close contact with your doctor before you get sick to discuss prevention strategies. If you become ill, it is best to call your doctor immediately for instructions, which may include home isolation.

What is home isolation?
This is isolating yourself or your ill loved one for a full 7 days at home. All members of the household need to wash their hands frequently, wear masks when in the room of the sick person, wipe down all surfaces with antiseptic. The best are alcohol based gel or soap and water. It is essential to keep ill isolated even within the house, confining that person to a bedroom, keep the door closed, and don’t let the sick person come out into common family areas. No one else should use the bathroom and after washing hands, each person should use paper towels or all use own towels – no one should use a shared towel.

How do I prevent catching the Swine flu?
Follow some basic rules that apply to preventing any highly infectious disease.

  • Be smart- avoid crowds and enclosed buildings with large groups of people.
  • Called “social distancing,” staying away from those that may be infectious will prevent most from contracting the swine flu.
  • Avoid close contact with anyone that may appear ill or is coughing or sneezing.
  • Cover your mouth and nose if you cough or sneeze.
  • Stay home if you feel ill.
  • Wash your hands.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Listen to the news and follow all public health instructions.
  • Just in case, plan ahead- be prepared. If you have to stay home for 7 to 10 days, be sure you have all the food, water, medications and supplies you will need. Think now about buying N95 face masks at your hardware store or pharmacy, extra water, and food supplies. Keep your car’s gas tank at least half full. Remember – going out into the public to buy food or water or supplies may not be an option if a true pandemic develops.

What happens when your community has a major health emergency?
Your local, regional and Federal public health officials may enact a variety of measures to minimize spread and control the disease. The goal is to prevent new people from getting infected and take care of those that are already infected. These can include mandatory school and business closures, canceling of public events, stopping public transportation, rationing and distribution of supplies and medications. In a worst case scenario, you might see full blown quarantining of homes, apartment complexes, neighborhoods, schools, hospitals or even entire communities or cities. Emergency services such as Fire Department, ambulances and emergency rooms may be overwhelmed.

What does a emergency plan look like for a big city like NYC? Or a small one like Anytown, USA?
All communities, whether a small rural town or huge metropolitan city with millions of people will have contingency emergency plans. Obviously, the larger cities and communities will probably experience more disruption from discontinued public transportation, hospitals overwhelmed, limited resources for food, water and medications. The key is to be smart minimize your risks and follow all public health instructions closely.

Survival favors the prepared.

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Posted by: Sheldon Marks, MD at 10:45 am

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