Protecting Yourself from Flu Pandemic
It's only a matter of time. A pandemic, a worldwide influenza epidemic, is inevitable, say health experts.
Pandemics tend to occur when disease-causing organisms that typically affect only animals adapt and can infect humans - then further adapt to pass easily from human to human. People have little or no immunity so the virus can spread rapidly.
Although experts are concerned about H5N1 virus, a strain of bird flu garnering much attention, no one knows what may occur with this or any other influenza virus.
The January issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter recommends how to minimize risk in the event of a pandemic, whether mild or severe.
- Be knowledgeable. Look to reliable sources for information such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (www.pandemicflu.gov), the Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov), the World Health Organization (www.who.int/en) and Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinic.com).
- Get the standard flu vaccine. It won't protect you from a pandemic flu virus, but it's a precaution against simultaneous infections.
- See your doctor within two days after flu symptoms begin. If you have a cough, sore throat, muscle aches or fever of 101 degrees or more, your doctor may be able to prescribe an antiviral drug.
- Frequently wash hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Either helps prevent the spread of infections.
- Stay healthy. A healthy body means a strong immune system. Eat a healthy diet, get adequate sleep and exercise.
- Consider wearing a face mask in public. It may prevent you from inhaling airborne particles from an infected person's coughs or sneezes.
- Be cautious with social contact. If you are sick, avoid public places where you are likely to infect others. If you're not sick, avoid handshakes or close contact with those who are.
- Think carefully about travel. Influenza viruses spread easily when people are confined to small spaces such as an airplane, train or bus.
- Don't eat undercooked poultry or raw eggs. Thoroughly cooking kills bacteria and viruses.
- Avoid contact with birds and bird droppings in areas where bird flu outbreaks are occurring. It's not the time to feed the ducks at a park.
- Use good respiratory etiquette. Cough or sneeze into a facial tissue and wash your hands often.