Thursday, April 30, 2009
Okay, before everybody runs screaming from the building, some pertinent facts about the current flux-du-jour.
Nobody knows how deadly the Mexican flu is, vis a vis "normal" flu yet, because nobody knows how many people have it, and the fatality factor is a percentage of that. Influenza kills a lot of people every year, always has, and this new triple-threat version -- bird/human/swine might or might not be any worse than any other strain.
Why is it killing more people in Mexico than here is still up for grabs. Air pollution might predispose people to lung complications; or maybe the bug has already started to mutate. They do that, which is why there has to be a new vaccine every year.
If you get the flu, there are things you can take to lighten the effects -- Tamiflu™, for instance, but good luck finding it now. And it only works if you take it early in the course of the illness -- first couple days. Stay home, drink a lot of clear liquids, rest, ibuprofen, like that. Not just to keep it from spreading, but to keep from catching something worse while your resistance is down. Mostly what kills people with the flu are secondary pneumonias.
You can't get it from eating pork. The Egyptians are killing all their pigs. They are idiots for doing so. Somebody carrying it is already walking around looking at the pyramids right now, you can take that to the bank. We live in the jet age, and you can seal the borders, but it's usually too late.
And most people won't catch it from pigs, either. It's spread the same way other viruses of like ilk are spread -- in the air, penumonically, and by contact and auto-innoculation. That is, somebody who's got it coughs in your face, or you shake hands with them, and then rub your nose or eyes and give it to yourself. Gets in through the mucous membranes.
You can't get it from a toilet seat, unless you, you know, bend down and put your nose onto the ring and rub it around. If you do that, you deserve whatever you catch.
The best way to avoid this flu -- and others -- as well as most viral upper respiratory infections, is to wash your hands frequently. By which I mean, after touching anything or anybody that might harbor the bugs. Somebody sneezes on their shopping cart and then you wheel it around, you might, for a short time, get something on your hands. Wash them before you touch your face with your fingers.
If somebody sneezes on your shirt, change it.
If your darling grandchildren or children are sniffing, sneezing, have a fever and you want to comfort them, do so at your own risk, and wash your hands afterward. I can trace most of my colds over the last ten years to the darling grandchildren, and it's my own fault.
In the medical community, there is a practice called "sterile technique," sometimes "aseptic technique." You wash your hands, you don't let people sneeze in your face, and if you are in areas where the air is likely to be highly-contaminated, you mask up. Surgeon's mask, even a painter's throwaway will usually do the job.
I worked in a family practice clinic for five years, and during flu season, we saw hundreds of patients every week who had it. I never caught it, never once got sick with something contagious brought in by a patient because I was fanatic about sterile technique.
If you can't wash your hands because you are somewhere it isn't feasible, carry a little bottle of Purell, or alcohol towelettes like you use to clean your glasses. The latter will dry out your hands if you use them too often, but they'll disinfect in a pinch, because the active ingredient is alcohol.
Hot water and soap and a clean towel works better.
They are making this sound scarier than it really is. Don't panic. It's not the Bubonic Plague.