Let me tell you why the flu virus scares the shit out of medics and scientists alike. It’s because they know one of three things is going to happen.
1. Two flu viruses will come together and form an entirely new strain with attributes of both the parent strains. An example would be H5N1 (Avian flu) infecting the same person as say H1N1 (novel swine flu). The two would swap genetic material and it’s entirely possible we end up with something with the 60% mortality rate of H5N1 and the ease of transmission of H1N1.
2. An existing virus with a high mortality rate will mutate, as flu viruses are very apt to do, and become easily transmissible.
3. An entirely new strain will make the species jump from animal to man. Influenza viruses are zoo nose, they are able to infect both animals and man.
One of the above IS going to happen at some point, of that there’s no doubt. Now, when it does humans have no resistance to the new strain and that’s when the potential for pandemics rises. A pandemic is nothing more than a world wide epidemic. The word pandemic in itself does not denote the severity of a disease, just the spread of it.
Past pandemics leave clues as to what we can expect from future pandemics. The 1918 pandemic which current estimates say killed around 50 million people was the first time that strain had been seen, there was no immunity at all and the mortality rate was massive.
By contrast, the 2009 pandemic was similar enough to the 1918 strain that some immunity existed. That immunity ranged from high in the elderly that had experienced direct exposure and survived to lower levels in those that had acquired some immunity passed onto them from previous generations. This passive immunity gets weaker with each generation hence the 2009 outbreak hitting the youngest the hardest.
So, what can you do to minimize your risk? Well you can eat onions and garlic until they can smell you in the next state and you can take colloidal silver until your skin turns blue but neither will guarantee you won’t catch it. Bolstering your immune system so that you can fight it more effectively is always a good idea but there is nothing that can confer immunity from a new strain of flu.
In order to infect you the virus needs access to your airways. This can be via inhalation or ingestion and the most usual source is from your own hands. The flu virus cannot get in through cuts or abrasions, it gets in via the nose and/or mouth.
Practical tips to avoid infection
- Hand hygiene is the most important thing in your fight against flu, and (gastro- intestinal disorders actually). Wash your hands regularly or use hand sanitizer when soap and water is not available. Flu virus can live for up to 72 hours on hard surfaces and 24 hours on soft. bear that in mind and consider the following:
- Push elevator buttons with your knuckles not your fingertips so if you touch your face afterwards contamination is less likely.
- Open public bathroom doors using a tissue or even the hem of you coat/shirt.
- If travelling in elevators stand at the back facing forwards or right at the front facing forwards. when possible. If you have to just pile in there angle your head slightly downwards. If you see someone about to sneeze turn your head away from them.
- Use hand sanitizer on the kids when you pick them up from school. Wash their hands as soon as they enter the house.
- Wash school lunch boxes and spray with anti-bacterial solution daily.
- Spritz school bags with anti-bacterial solution daily.
- Make sure anyone with flu uses disposable tissues which they drop into a garbage bag immediately after use. A diaper sack is great for the sofa/bedbound.
- Get into the habit of not touching your face with your hands when out and about. Rub your nose on your sleeve if you really have to stop an itch.
- Pay particular attention to telephones at work. Wipe them with an anti-bacterial wipe before using them at the start of the day or after time away from your desk when others may have used the phone.
- Your mobile phone will hold viruses very well, wipe it down every day.
- TV remotes ditto.
- Computer keyboards ditto.
- Worktops/counters ditto.
- Door handles ditto.
- Keep your pen in your pocket rather than use ones other people have handled.
- A sneeze can cross a room in 2 seconds. Teach your household to sneeze into the crook of their arm if they don’t have a tissue.
- Put toothbrushes in individual plastic bags if someone in the house has flu. Alternatively store them head down in Listerine.
- Wear a scarf loosely around your neck if the weather permits, it works as a face shield if confronted by someone with the flu in a confined space.
- Money is dirty, filthy dirty actually. Every dollar bill you handle is seriously contaminated with everything from the flu virus to faeces. NEVER touch your face after handling money. Coinage is more likely to deposit bacteria on the inside of you money purse or your pocket linings, each time you go into either one your fingers come out teeming with bugs.
- Consider home isolation. Keeping an infected person in a different room minimizes the risk for the rest of the household.
- If it’s a serious pandemic, that is it has a high mortality rate consider social isolation. Ultimately the government would impose a ban on large crowds gathering but that often comes well into the pandemic. Monitor events in your area and act accordingly.
- Make sure you have some disposable face masks and gloves for if the situation becomes very serious in your area.
- Take off outdoor coats as near to the front door as possible, the same goes for gloves hats and scarves.
- Don’t become complacent because there are regular ‘scares’ in the news. Pay attention to reports of clusters of respiratory illness, a school or rest home may be temporarily closed/visitor restricted for example.
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Contributed by Lizzie Bennett of Underground Medic.
Lizzie Bennett retired from her job as a senior operating department practitioner in the UK earlier this year. Her field was trauma and accident and emergency and she has served on major catastrophe teams around the UK. Lizzie publishes Underground Medic on the topic of preparedness.