The delay in producing enough vaccine to protect us against H1N1 is not President Obama’s Katrina moment – yet. A New York Times article quotes Harvard public health professor Robert Blendon who says: “[I]f the pandemic takes a turn for the worse, the president may be held accountable even for a situation that is beyond his control.”
The good news is that the H1N1 pandemic is not yet a crisis in our area. A quick poll of my students at Michigan State yesterday confirmed that there is no massive outbreak on campus, but we all worry this could be the lull before the storm of flu germs heads our way.
UPDATE: Patricia Schenck posted on Facebook that the Michigan Department of Public Health is reporting 13,000 cases across the state, and almost all are suspected to be cases of H1N1. Children appear to be hardest hit. The Centers for Disease Control has now upgraded our flu status from regional to widespread. Anecdotally, I can report that the tech at my doctor’s office said they have been seeing more cases of flu, but almost all are youngsters.
Here in Ingham County, priority for the limited amount of vaccine available is given to people who can prove they have a chronic medical condition. On Monday October 26, the Public Health Department expanded the age range of people eligible to receive the vaccine from 5- to 18-year-olds to 5- to 64-year-olds. (For more information, including clinic hours and the kinds of proof you will need to show, click here for the department’s H1N1 update page.)
H1N1 Flu Shot Clinics – Click on the full screen button to view the mass vaccination H1N1 schedule for Ingham County (added 10-30-09)
At 65 years old, I remain SOOL (Still Out Of Luck). What to do?
During the era of the Black Death in Europe, some people covered themselves in ashes and wriggled on their stomachs to reach churches where they would pray for protection. Others fought to the death for the chance to touch the bones of dead saints. I think I’ll try some hand sanitizer first.
A few things we can do until the vaccine arrives:
- Keep those clean hands to yourself – When I worked on a project about preparing for avian flu, I learned that hand-washing is one of the single most effective things to you can do to protect yourself. Use soap or an alcohol-based sanitizer and make sure to wash long enough (sing a chorus of Happy Birthday and you should be safe). And don’t touch your face – you don’t want to spread germs on your hands to your eyes, nose and mouth where they might gain entry.
- Take care of yourself – A strong immune system can help you ward off illness or make your recovery shorter. Get enough sleep. Eat well. Maintain your exercise program (this may not be a good time to stress your system by kicking up your training regimen.) Dr. Mehmet Oz says not to have more than one drink of alcohol a day.
- Alternative ideas – Laurelle Brennan, a school nurse in Ann Arbor, collected a list of suggestions from a variety of different sources that go beyond the traditional advice. Gargling with salt water at least one a day may help keep any viruses multiplying in your body. Using a neti pot to irrigate your nasal passages with salt water can help do the same thing (here’s some advice from WebMD). She also suggests Vitamin C with zinc to boost absorption, as well as drinking hot liquids such as tea to help flush the virus through your system.
- Time to be stand-offish – Until flu season is over, you may want to avoid shaking hands and hugging folks, especially those who look a bit peaked. Confined spaces, such as airplanes and trains, can also put you at greater risk of encountering the virus.
- If you start to feel flu-ish – If you are starting to feel ill, remember to cough into your elbow not your hand (doing so helps reduce the spray). And stay home until you feel better.
Be on the lookout for symptoms in yourself or your loved ones that indicate a flu emergency. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta offers this list of symptoms in children and adults that require urgent emergency treatment:
* Fast breathing or trouble breathing
* Bluish skin color
* Not drinking enough fluids
* Not waking up or not interacting
* Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
* Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
* Fever with a rash
* Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
* Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
* Sudden dizziness
* Severe or persistent vomiting