Thursday, February 2, 2012

Emergency Flu Preparation

      Influenza is not only a nuisance, it actually kills people.  Those of us who get a flu shot each year are somewhat protected against the several strains of influenza that researchers think will be most common that year. They also may arm our immune systems somewhat against viral syndromes.  Most physicians recommend flu vaccines for almost anyone with a chronic illness (asthma, diabetes, etc.), for pregnant women, people over about 50. and for children ages about 6 months to about 18 years. Health care workers and first responders are also urged to receive one, and in some places actually required to have one.  Most physicians are pro-vaccine, but of course being the person I am, I am acquainted with a few who are more cautious. I do not get an annual influenza vaccine because I have an autoimmune illness, and because it is my feeling and the concern of my doctor that I may do better without having my immune system challenged. (I have a hyperactive immune system anyway. Why arm it additionally ?)   This is a calculated risk, and I will either outlive everyone, or die of the flu some year soon.   People who should not generally receive the flu shot are people with a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome following an immunization, people who have a known allergy to eggs, those enduring certain types of cancer treatment. Those who have had a recent illness with or without a fever should let their physician decide whether they should receive a flu shot now, or wait.  The expert on who should receive a flu shot is your own physician, and definitely not the nurses or pharmacists at your local pharmacy who not only don't know your prior medical history, but who make money from your choice to have the immunization done with them.  My older kids do get the pneumovax injection to prevent pneumonia however. I also believe in the meningococcal preventive immunizations and the booster, which you can read about here:

The guidelines for who is to be immunized does vary a bit country to country.  Make no mistake though, influenza is dangerous. A friend of ours with three children and all were ill with the flu. Her eldest son, JT,  was miserable, as all her kids were, and went up to bed.  Sometime that night as a result of the flu, he passed away.  He had no other known medical issues other than the flu.
           So, in preparing for the flu, we can consider immunization.  We can also practice frequent handwashing, which really does decrease the number of viruses we pick up from inanimate objects onto our hands.  We can also avoid touching out noses and eyes while out and before handwashing, as researchers indicate that our own fingers are actually how we are inadvertently inoculated by many of these influenza viruses.   We can try to avoid others with respiratory infections as droplet infection through air is one of the means by which we can acquire such an infection. This of course is of limited success.  The Japanese are quite comfortable wearing masks while working or going to school during influenza outbreaks. This too may be of some value.
          I am not a fan of antibacterial soaps for simple regular use. I am not fond of alcohol based hand rinses as they do dry hands which contributes to winter cracking, and then these openings are germ hazards in themselves.  I prefer to choose my favorite soap and have one of these at each sink.  If we wash our hands well enough and long enough with sufficient water, studies have shown that they really are pathogen free.  (Pathogens are microorganisms which cause disease. There are always some microorganisms on skin, and many of these are positive because they keep the balance of microorganisms, which is desirable, avoiding fungal infections etc.)
          For many of us, we will get some type of flu annually.  Even those of us who are immunized, may contract a milder version of one of the influenzas.  Very early in the course of your flu, if you see your doctor, there are drugs called antivirals.  Tamiflu is one of these.  There are times when abbreviating the flu can be a beneficial idea.
 You can read more about it at:

Whether you have been treated with tamiflu to help to abbreviate this flu or not, it pays to have some preparations. The last thing you want to be doing with a fever is standing in line at a pharmacy looking for acetaminophen or aspirin, facial tissues, or a thermometer when everyone else needs one too, and the store is sold out.  Our large family has a flu kit.

  Our flu kit has:

*Regular facial tissues,
*Kleenex lotion variety tissues
*Generic Mucinex   (to liquify secretions) generic is glyceryl guaiacolate
*Generic acetaminophen     (Panadol in the UK, Tylenol in the US,  generics are fine.)
*Generic aspirin     (Only for those older than 18 or older than 21.  Aspirin is associated with Reyes  Syndrome in teens and children)
*Regular masks     (There are special masks for hospital use. I use regular disposable masks for home use)
*Lots of Gatorade, premixed, powdered, all flavors, to battle dehydration if vomiting occurs.  Of course, you can use whatever palatable drink will help to replace fluids and electrolytes in the event of vomiting or diarrhea.    Please also see my prior post on "Dehydration and Rehydration Solutions" at:

* Cough drops.   (Use only for children old enough to be unlikely to choke on them.  On younger children, you might look for "cough drop lollypops")

* A glass thermometer or an electronic thermometer. (I like the Exergen temporal scanner especially for children, because you can take a temperature without waking them up.)
*Loperamide     (marketed in the US as Imodium AD for protracted diarrhea.  Generic is fine for this also)
* Vitamin C   (I use 500 mg. a day during an influenza. Others use 1000 mg or 1 gram daily.  This is an unproven cold and flu management strategy, but it seems to work for my family and I.
(see:   )
* A package of nitrile or latex gloves would be a good idea also.   (Latex gloves promote latex allergies in many people)
*If you have children under 12, you should have all of these drugs but aspirin in liquid form for children.
  You could add to your influenza kit or reduce amounts of things depending upon family size.   This year, someone here added prepackaged quick oatmeal packets to the kit.
*Make sure you have salt, so that you can make a salt water gargle for sore throats.

Note: Your sick day supplies for a child with asthma or with Type I (juvenile) diabetes would include different things in addition to the above.

          Sadly, a small percentage of people will die of influenza.  It doesn't happen often, but it does happen.  My friend lost her son at seven, and my father-in-law died of the flu at 59.  It is not always possible to predict who is going to be severely damaged by it.   Some of the things we can do to prevent influenza deaths is to see that people in our family with other chronic health issues, get a flu shot annually.   People with chronic illnesses should have their illnesses under control BEFORE flu season.   Asthma needs to be controlled, and diabetes Type I OR Type II need to be controlled before the challenge of an influenza comes along.  When someone gets the flu, they might want to consider a pre-emptive visit very early in its course for Tamiflu or similar drug.   Then, they need to carve the time out to be sick, and really take care of themselves.  In most people, the flu will pass if the patient is given simple supportive care.  People need plenty of fluids, antipyretics (tylenol, or aspirin)  They need soft food which is easily prepared.  They need trash bags to contain tissues with drainage.  If they live alone, someone should be their flu buddy, and should call them daily to check on their progress. They should be called twice a day if not doing well.   Do not hesitate to take a person who seems to be experiencing a more severe course of the flu, to a physician.  We cannot save everyone, and sometimes there are no indications that this person is in trouble, but often there are, and a physician may well admit them to the hospital for intravenous fluids, fluid and electrolyte correction, and sometimes, antibiotics are necessary for a superimposed bacterial infection which moves in as a consequence of the viral one.

This post is dedicated to JT Baptista:

As I mentioned, JT passed suddenly from Earth due to influenza.  His family has a fund in which families can donate so that other boys can have scholarships to enjoy karate, just as he did.  His mother is a dear friend.

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