29 October 2009

This year's flu and you; a public service announcement

2009 to 2010 promises to be a particularly tough flu season. I can't imagine that this is news, but there are two flu strains making the rounds right now; H1N1 and the regular, seasonal flu. There are vaccines now available for both of them and please, if you are part of the at-risk population, get vaccinated. If you're not considered to be at-risk, please get these vaccinations anyhow. Both vaccines have been tested thoroughly and are safe. WebMD has a great section on it that dispels a lot of the myths and misinformation surrounding the H1N1 vaccine particularly. If you'd like to read something topical that's based on real science, please direct your browser there.

These influenza viruses are no fun and containing their spread is everyone's responsibility. If you get the flu this winter, please stay home and take care of yourself until you're no longer contagious. The primary means of flu transmission is from inhaling airborne mucous droplets that carry viruses. These droplets and their hitchhiking viruses become airborne when someone who has an active flu infection coughs or sneezes. The second most common means of flu infection is from touching infected surfaces. These findings are from a paper by Dr. Mark Nicas of the University of California Berkeley’s School of Public Health, and Dr. Rachael M. Jones of the University of Illinois Chicago’s School of Public Health. Their findings appeared in the September issue of the peer-reviewed journal Risk Analysis, published by the Society for Risk Analysis.

According to Nicas' and Jones' research, the relative likelihood of being infected by the different exposure routes are:
  1. hand contact with contaminated surfaces, 31 percent;
  2. inhaling small particles carrying virus when in the room, 17 percent;
  3. inhaling relatively large particles carrying virus when three feet or closer to the infected person, 0.52 percent; and
  4. close contact spraying of cough droplets carrying virus onto the membranes of the eyes, nostrils and lips, 52 percent. 
Oy. So even though there's nothing you can do to make these viruses go away, there's a lot you can do to manage the risks and prevent infection. The website Flu and Health is great resource for factual, science-based and non-inflammatory information that might help to keep you, your family and your workplace flu-free. From their website:

Get Vaccinated: Remember that you need two vaccines for the 2009 flu season.
  • Seasonal Flu: The single best way to protect against the seasonal flu is to get vaccinated each year, preferably in October or November.
  • H1N1 Flu:  In addition to providing the seasonal flu vaccine, the U.S. government is working closely with manufacturers to develop and provide a 2009 H1N1 vaccine. The H1N1 vaccine is expected to be available in the fall.
Disinfect your home
  • Disinfect frequently used surfaces like doorknobs, counters, table tops, dials, handles and switches.
  • Clean dishes, cups and utensils in the dishwasher
  • Use chlorine bleach on white bedding, towels and other laundry as appropriate
Maintain a healthy lifestyle
  • Get plenty of rest, exercise regularly and manage stress.
  • Encourage anyone with a cough or fever to stay home from work or school or errands to rest and avoid contact with others.
  • Avoid crowds wherever possible during peak flu season.
  • Practice good personal hygiene.
  • Wash hands frequently, for 15 – 20 seconds at a time. Alcohol-based hand cleaners may be used to supplement hand washing.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
  • Do not share food, drinks, dishes, utensils or beverage containers.
  • Remind children to wash hands and refrain from touching their noses, mouths and eyes.
Read about chlorine disinfection here.

Read about how to disinfect surfaces here.

Frequently asked questions about the H1N1 vaccine from the CDC here.

Read about Dr. Ralph's flu preparedness kit here.

Stay well!

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