Sunday, January 15, 2006

News - Common Sense and the Flu by Donald R. May - Jan 15, 2006

We are confronted daily with the specter of a global flu pandemic decimating civilization and killing a good portion of our fellow humans. How great is the danger, and other than finding a deserted island or becoming a hermit, what is a person to do?

Whether the next deadly pandemic will arise from the current H5N1 avian flu virus or from a seasonal human influenza virus, we have an unprecedented opportunity to prepare. Common sense prevention decreases the spread of flu and cold viruses. Changing our personal habits may significantly decrease our chances of becoming ill and can help to protect us when a pandemic occurs.

Flu and cold viruses are transmitted from contaminated objects and by breathing in aerosolized fluid droplets containing viruses. Frequent hand washing is recommended as our fingers are considered culprits in transmitting viruses. Contaminated food, utensils, and beverage containers are additional offenders.

The coarsening of our society with the related erosion of common sense and public manners has made us increasingly susceptible to infectious diseases. In years past, wait staff would not touch the rim of a glass or cup with their fingers or with the spout of a coffee pot or water pitcher. It would be grasped away from its rim, and beverages would be poured without touching the rim with the pouring spout.
Watch your servers. Almost invariably they will grasp a glass or cup at the rim whether they are serving or taking the item from you. When offering a refill, they will place the spout on your cup or glass rim and that of everyone they serve. You have effectively kissed everyone they are serving. If you are fortunate, they will not stick fingers in the beverage. Ask for a straw and carry a supply of wrapped straws with you to bypass this problem.

Refrain from picking your nose or teeth, biting nails, or rubbing eyes with your fingers. Wash your hands before touching food, your nose, eyes, or mouth, including teeth brushing and flossing. Use a hand brush to clean under your nails. Move food onto your fork with your knife and not with your fingers.

As people use restrooms to blow their noses and cough up accumulated secretions, restrooms are a higher risk environment. Watch how many people depart opening the door with unwashed hands. If you touch that door, you are effectively shaking hands with them. After washing your hands in a public restroom, use towels to shut off the water, dispense towels, and open doors. Carry paper towels, napkins, or tissues to use when towels are available.

Open doors and shake hands with your right hand and keep your left hand clean. Avoid eating with your fingers. Use forks or toothpicks for hors d’oeuvres.

Do not drink or eat from containers of others or share flatware. If you share food or beverages, serve portions into separate containers. Request Communion from individual glasses.

Cough and sneeze into tissues and flush them. In the event of an outbreak, wear a surgical mask in public places.
Avoid close contact with the ill and stay home when you are ill. Avoid restaurants where the employees touch foods with bare hands.
Talk with your physician about immunizations. Most people are benefited by a yearly flu immunization. You may also benefit from a pneumonia immunization.

The H5N1 avian flu virus thus far appears to have infected only humans who have direct contact with domestic birds. If there has been any human-to-human spread, it has not been sustained. It is possible that if a virus were to occur that could be transmitted among humans, it would not carry the virulence of H5N1. It is also possible that only the most severe human cases of avian flu are being recognized and that H5N1 is not as deadly as feared. As these are unknowns, it remains prudent to prepare for the worst.
Innovative vaccine and medication development is essential. At best, the billions spent in taxpayer and pharmaceutical company dollars will better prepare us for the next highly pathogenic viral pandemic. With current technology, it takes many months to prepare flu vaccines for the most likely viral strains. New technologies, achievable only with years of work and billions for scientific research, can greatly reduce the time it takes to produce vaccines.

Antivirals such as Tamiflu are effective at shortening symptoms and saving lives with seasonal influenza and may be effective in treating avian flu. Ask your doctor which medications can benefit you. Avoid medications purchased on the Internet as fraudulent Tamiflu has already reached the US.

Purchase medications on which your life depends only at reputable US pharmacies.

If we want new vaccines and drugs to protect our lives from future diseases, we must pull the bureaucrats, politicians, and trial lawyers off the backs of scientists and the pharmaceutical industry. Reasonable and prudent oversight of vaccine and drug development and production and holding persons and companies financially and criminally liable for actual negligence and fraud is appropriate and necessary.

Vaccines and medications will have negative effects on some people, and medical science cannot totally prevent this. The public must understand that vaccines and medicines offer an increased chance of disease survival and taking them entails risk.

Common sense changes in our personal habits and those of society can help protect us against infections. Innovative vaccines and medications will protect us only if they are available. :: Columns :: Common Sense and the Flu by Donald R. May - Jan 15, 2006


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