Tag Archives: Swine flu

It’s Flu Season, Get Vaccinated

In the past couple of weeks I have had a couple of interesting exchanges regarding both the H1N1 and the seasonal flu, and the idea of being vaccinated against each.

During one exchange a friend said to me: “I’m always afraid of getting sick from the vaccine, because I had a family member who got really sick from it once.” During another exchange, a family member said to me: “I don’t believe in them (vaccines).”

It is illogical, unwarranted, paranoid, delusional, or sometimes just plain misinformed thought processes such as these that help contribute to the spread of flu each year.

These irrational fears could also make the current H1N1 ‘Swine Flu’ situation worse than it needs to be. It’s flu season, vaccines are safe and effective, and you need to get yourself and your family members vaccinated.

Let’s begin by talking about exactly what the ‘flu’ is and is not. It is a contagious respiratory illness caused by any number of influenza viruses which spread from person-to-person and can cause symptoms ranging from mild to deadly. Here in America, the flu usually breaks out in the fall and lasts into the following spring.

Anyone can get the flu, but kids are particularly vulnerable because their immune systems are not fully developed. Kids also tend to have poorer hygienic habits than adults, and they also can remain contagious for twice or three times as long as adults. This means that they are highly vulnerable to the spread of influenza at schools, day cares, and even just among kids within that same family at home.

Others at increased risk of contracting the flu include senior citizens, infants and toddlers, and anyone with a chronic medical condition such as diabetes, asthma, or any heart or lung disease.

Annually more than 200,000 people are hospitalized and about 36,000 people die from flu-related causes. In a typical year, between 5-20% of the population end up contracting the seasonal flu.

Flu symptoms can include fever, coughing, sore throat, running or stuffed nose, head aches, body aches, chills and fatigue.

The best prevention for most people is to get vaccinated, and to practice better personal hygiene such as more frequent and thorough washing of the hands with warm, soapy water for 15 seconds.

The use of gel hand sanitizers, and the temporary limiting of exposure (i.e. hand-shaking at churches, high-fives at sports events, shared drinks or cigarettes, etc.) can help. Also, you should restrict the touching or rubbing of your eyes, nose, or mouth areas.

Many people get confused as to whether or not they have the flu, or just a common cold. It can be difficult to tell the difference because the symptoms are generally the same. There is, in fact, no way for you to tell on your own. Influenza can only be verified through lab testing. However, with the flu things like fever, body aches, tiredness, and dry cough are often more intense and severe.

People usually fight off colds more easily without much in the way of specific medical treatments. In general, if you have a runny nose, a mild cough, and maybe feel generally ‘off’ for a couple days then you are probably fighting off a cold and may just require extra rest. If you get knocked on your butt and the symptoms are persisting, you may well have the flu and might require medications as well as rest.

The H1N1 influenza that has been in the news is a highly contagious strain of the flu virus. This is because it is a relatively new strain for which most humans have no built-up immunities. It is commonly referred to as ‘Swine Flu’, but that has more to do with it’s origins than it does with any valid concern over eating pork products. There is a separate vaccine that has been developed and that will need to be received to combat the H1N1 virus.

The vast majority of people who end up contracting H1N1 will experience nothing more than the usual flu symptoms, and also will end up not needing any type of medical treatment beyond what a normal flu would require. However, as with seasonal flu, those in the more highly vulnerable categories such as children and those with chronic medical conditions need to be more careful and may require more treatment.

The warning signs that you or your child have a serious flu situation and need to seek quick professional medical treatment include fast breathing or difficulty breathing, difficulty in waking up, confusion when interacting, children not wanting to be held, and adults with severe or persistent vomiting, chest pains, or abdominal pains.

Currently the medical community is experiencing a shortage of the vaccine to fight the H1N1 influenza virus, and is asking that only those in these more highly vulnerable categories actually request and receive the vaccinations.

However, everyone should receive a vaccination for the seasonal flu, and these are readily available at the current time. Many work places make these vaccinations available for free or at reduced costs to their employees. Take advantage of these and other programs to get yourself and your family vaccinated.

Vaccines have proven to be highly safe. Hundreds of millions of Americans have received seasonal flu vaccines over the years with no or mild symptoms. But as with every single medical procedure you ever have or will receive, there are possibilities of problems. Most who do have symptoms only get some soreness, redness, or swelling at the point of vaccination.

Some adolescents have fainted, and some people have headaches or muscle aches, fever, or nausea. Again, these symptoms are infrequent, and usually are gone within a day or two if they happen at all.

In the most severe cases there have been noticeable behavioral changes, and some people have faced life-threatening allergic reactions. These will usually come on within minutes or hours, and immediate medical treatment must be sought.

But again, these are highly unusual and the odds that you will experience anything more than some redness or swelling are far longer than the odds of you contracting influenza if you go unprotected by the vaccine.

If you do get sick with the flu and develop a fever, stay home until at least 24 hours after the fever has passed. If you have a chronic medical condition, contact your physician for further advice. If your symptoms worsen or persist, get to a doctor, and in the very worst cases to an emergency room.

In no case should you use the E/R as a doctor’s office. There is a reason that they call it an ’emergency’ room, after all. It should only be utilized for the most critical or unmanageable injuries and illnesses.

The cold and flu season is now fully underway here in the United States. This particular season is expected to be more unpredictable than usual, and there is much bad information out there circulating among the public.

The vast majority of people will experience significant health benefits at very minor monetary costs and health risks from both seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccines.

If you have any serious questions or concerns, check with your doctor, but everyone should strongly consider getting vaccinated as my wife and I did just two nights ago.

Pandemics Are Nothing to Sneeze At

For some people it’s probably a big joke. ‘Swine Flu’, it just has a funny name, right? For others it’s probably a case of wondering what all the fuss is about, since we are talking about a few dozen cases in the United States, and all of those are down around the border with Mexico, which has the real problem.

So what’s the big deal? Why all the headline stories in the newspaper and on television? And what’s with all those empty stadiums this past weekend for all the big soccer matches down there south of the border?

Well glad that you asked, because the topic of handling a pandemic, at least from a law enforcement perspective, is being addressed this year in one of the Philly police MPOETC courses that I am teaching.

The course, titled ‘Crisis & Emergency Management’, is a scenario-based course in which the police officers of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are presented with four unusual situations. Officers are asked to place themselves in the scenario, and are guided as to how they should be expected to respond. They are also given information on some of the resources that would be coming to help in the situation from the government and other entities.

One of the scenarios, in fact the final one that they are being presented, is a pandemic flu outbreak. How timely, huh? I can’t tell you how many times that I have gotten that look in class. You know the one, the “You gotta be kidding me, this will never happen” look.

Well as today’s headlines are beginning to relate, pandemic outbreaks are not only things that happened in the distant past or the subjects of science fiction, but they are very real threats to our society and our world, and we need to be prepared and informed.

A ‘pandemic’ is a breakout of an infectious disease that spreads through populations of humans or animals or both, from person-to-person (animal to person, animal to animal) across large geographic regions, continents, and even around the world.

There have been a number of pandemics to hit the world in recorded history. Many have heard of the ‘Black Death’ of ‘bubonic plague’ pandemic that struck in the 14th century and killed 20-30 million Europeans in just six years.

During the 1700’s, at the time of the ‘Thirty Years War’, approximately eight million Germans were wiped out by an outbreak of plague and typhus.

In the 19th century, another plague outbreak began in China and spread all around the world, killing 10 million people in India. There were numerous outbreaks of ‘cholera’ in the 19th century, including an 1866 outbreak in our own country that killed some 50,000 Americans.

Also here in the U.S., the ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic struck in 1918-1919, eventually spreading to all corners of the world and infecting up to 5% of the human population, with 20% of people feeling some effects. In six months, some estimates had the number of dead worldwide as 50 million, but others placed it at twice that number.

In 1957-58, the ‘Asian flu’ caused upwards of 70,000 deaths here in the U.S., and in 1968-69 the ‘Hong Kong flu’ killed 34,000 Americans.

Just as recently as 2003, the world reeled at the possibility of another pandemic called ‘SARS’, a highly contagious pneumonia type. Quick action around the world stopped its spread before it could become a pandemic. That illness was not eradicated, however, and could reemerge at any time.

The bottom line is that there is nothing at all cute about ‘Swine flu’ despite its comical sounding name. It is an illness that draws that name because it is prevalent in swine or pig populations. This is a killer illness that at the very least can make a lot of people very ill.

You need to pay close attention to the news on this pandemic, and take every precaution that public health authorities release as seriously as possible. In a worst case scenario here in America, we could see scenes such as played out in those Mexican football/soccer games this past weekend.

What are known as ‘social distancing methods’ could well be put into effect, where large groups of people are kept apart from one another. This is accomplished by methods such as closing schools, bars, restaurants, and other public gathering places and events such as pro sports games would perhaps be played, but in front of empty ballparks and arenas.

We will see individuals placed into ‘isolation’ when they have been diagnosed with the illness. This means they are kept away from others during their period of infectiousness.

We would also likely see individuals, and possibly families, work places, or entire communities put into ‘quarantine’ when they have been in contact with individuals who are diagnosed as positive with the illness. The quarantine would remain until those folks in contact can be deemed illness-free.

And if things ever get really bad due to a pandemic disease outbreak, you may need to not only pay strict attention and follow along with strict adherence to public health and law enforcement authorities directions. But you may also need to toss in a prayer or two while you’re at it, because hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people are likely to end up dead.