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Friday, May 1, 2009

Flu Precautions

With the swine flu, whose politically correct name is now designated as Influenza A H1N1, dominating the news lately, people are wondering what they should do. Go into a full-fledged panic because we're all gonna die or sit back and let the government handle it? Luckily, there are options in between.

Common Sense Normal Precautions

First of all, there are precautions one can take each and every flu season to minimize the risk of getting sick. Despite flu making the rounds each year, I haven't had a serious case of it in years. I can't even remember the last time I had a mild case of it. Do I have super immunity? No. What I have is common sense and knowledge of how to keep the germs at bay.

Minimizing exposure to the flu virus is the best way to minimize your risk of getting ill. This does not mean that you have to don a bio-hazard suit, although you're welcome to try to start a new fashion trend in your neighborhood.

Wash your hands. Really the main thing you need to do is keep your hands clean. Wash your hands frequently during flu season and make sure you are washing them correctly. Most people do not wash long or well enough, including doctors. Thoroughly soap up and scrub your entire hands for 20 seconds and then rinse very well. Dry your hands thoroughly afterwards.

Use alcohol sanitizing gel. What if you can't wash your hands? Alcohol gel works well when hand-washing is not possibly. Keep a small bottle in your pocket for use anytime. You can even make your own by combining 1 cup rubbing alcohol with 1 tsp vegetable glycerin (available at natural food stores). It won't be as thick as the gel but will work just as well. When I return to my vehicle from any kind of outing, including thrift stores, libraries, or gatherings, I immediately clean my hands with alcohol sanitizing gel that I always keep in the console.

Decontaminate surfaces. During flu season, I also use the disinfectant wipes that many stores now provide for their grocery carts. I get the wipe before even touching the cart and use it on any parts of the handle I might touch. While in the store, or any other place, I am careful not to touch my hands to my face. Germs and viruses can easily enter the body through the eyes, nose, and mouth so those places are off-limits until I can thoroughly clean my hands. In restrooms, I wash my hands thoroughly and use my arm to shut off the faucet and hit the paper towel dispenser, and use an additional piece of paper towel to open the door so I am not touching the handle with my bare hands.

Can you use cloth instead of disposables? My precautions involve the use of disposable products: wipes and paper towels. I've been thinking about ways this could be done with cloth and it's possible but would require diligent attention to proper handling. Once the cloth has touched a surface that could be contaminated, you will not want to touch it again until laundered. So, the cloth becomes a one-time use item, but not disposable, meaning you need to carry a number of cloths, such as handkerchiefs or bandannas, with you. It would probably be best to then deposit the contaminated cloths into a bag to go directly into the laundry. Do not shake these when handling before washing as the dried contaminants can then become airborne and may actually be more easily inhaled in smaller particles. After handling the dirty laundry, wash your hands thoroughly. Wash them again before handling the clean laundry, especially if you have coughed or sneezed.

Stay healthy. Being healthy can strengthen your immune system. If you haven't been taking care of yourself, now is the time to start. Eat a healthy diet with lots of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Drink plenty of water. Minimize your intake of alcohol, salt, and sugar. Exercise regularly and get plenty of rest. Quit any bad habits such as drug use or smoking.

Stay home if sick. If you are sick, please STAY HOME. Do not expose others in the workplace, school, public, or extended family. Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough. If someone in your home is sick, be sure to disinfect common surfaces frequently: door knobs, toilet flush handles, phone, keyboards, computer mice, and so on.

What if there's a pandemic?

As Sharon at Casaubon's Book recently wrote, preparing for the possibility of an influenza pandemic is not much different than preparing for peak oil and climate change impacts on our way of life. Emergency preparedness is wise even if you don't believe in peak oil or climate change, or don't think they will have much impact on the way we go about living our daily lives.

As I've mentioned here repeatedly, the CDC has guidelines for emergency preparedness that everyone should follow. At the very lease, store enough food and water (and medications) for a couple of weeks (minimum!) for any kind of disaster, portable radio and flashlights with extra batteries (or better yet, get handcrank rechargeable versions), and a first aid kit. Follow the link to the CDC website for more details. Anyone that's been following my blog, or Sharon's or a number of the other ones in my sidebar, knows that we strongly advocate and practice such preparations.

In the past couple of days, I've been following the CDC's page on swine flu and the pandemic flu site> I also checked out Dr. Michael Greger's book about avian flu. The book is online so anyone can read it. I read the latter sections on what individuals can do to prepare and take care of themselves during a flu pandemic.

Yesterday afternoon, I shopped and supplemented my emergency supplies with a few more items: a few N95 masks (mostly in case my sweetie has to go to work when/if people are ill), vegetable glycerin and small squeeze bottles for our own alcohol sanitizer gel, salt substitute as a source of potassium if we become ill, Gatorade mix and plain crackers also in case we become ill, and some "Breathe Easy" tea that was on sale. We already have gloves so I skipped those. If you decide you want to have a few masks on hand, check out the paint section in hardware stores. That's where we've picked them up in the past for woodworking and painting, and they are likely to be less expensive than going to a medical supply business.

Is denial a good option?

No. There is no reason to panic, but it is also unwise not to be take precautions. Remember, denial is not a good substitute for preparation!


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