Pandemic Influenza: Protecting you, your family and your community.

April 25, 2009

Pandemic Influenza – Protecting you, your family & your community

– By Greg McVicker

(Published April 21st, 2009).

As you may recall, I had written an article entitled Pandemic Influenza – Preparing Communities; Preparing You. This article addressed the historical impacts of previous outbreaks, and how we are now in the midst of preparing for the next global Pandemic since the last one occurred over forty years ago (Hong Kong Influenza, 1968).

As we know, a vaccine which would normally protect the vast majority of the Canadian population will likely not be available for at least the first six months. Therefore, this article speaks to the various ways people can help protect themselves, their families and their communities during a Pandemic.

The first is to get your annual flu shot. Many people believe the flu shot gives them influenza itself. This is not possible, as the flu shot is made up of dead bits and particles of previous flu viruses and thus, cannot cause a viral infection. People who receive the shot may show flu like symptoms for up to forty-eight hours, as their immune system is developing anti-bodies to help fight off infection. Please note that the flu shot does not provide immunity against an influenza pandemic, but does help boost a person’s immune system against the flu virus. Speak to your health care professional about receiving your flu shot, or talk to an Elder or Medicine Person about which medicines might be used.

Another method of boosting ones immune system is to eat a healthy diet of food. In today’s busy world, society has taken to disposable measures in that drinks loaded with sugar, heat ‘n’ serve or drive thru meals have become the preferred choice amongst many. As a result of not preparing our meals, we have no idea as to what the fat content might be or how many preservatives were used to prepare the food. As the old adage goes – “Rubbish in; Rubbish out.”

Other ways of protecting our communities is to retrain ourselves to cough and sneeze into our sleeves, where germs get trapped and die. Often, I still see many people coughing into their hands as this was once considered polite and in preventing the germs from travelling. However, germs from a cough or a sneeze can last up to five minutes on a person’s hand and be spread to inanimate objects such as door handles, telephones or other items that we share with the people around us. If you make a mistake and cough or sneeze into your hands, wash them immediately or use a hand sanitizer. If you are using a tissue, discard it and immediately wash your hands. Handkerchiefs are not advised as this leads to re-contamination.

One misconception is that anti-bacterial soap should be used to wash your hands. Although this may be a personal preference, our bodies have both good and bad bacteria. It is the bad bacteria we need to rid ourselves of as antibacterial soap can also remove the good bacteria from our hands. Washing our hands effectively and regularly is not only crucial during a Pandemic, we should be in the practice of doing this regardless of flu outbreaks or not. Taking the time to wash our hands for 15-20 seconds with soap and warm water helps prevent the spread of germs which cause illness. Moreover, if you are teaching young children about the importance of handwashing, ask them to sing their ABC’s while washing their hands. Try this yourself. You’ll be amazed at how effective this is in ensuring that both sides of you or your child’s hands are fully washed.

Avoiding the consumption of alcohol, cigarette smoking or chemical substances is another way of helping increase our body’s immune system against the spread of the flu virus. However, to make this choice when a global pandemic is declared is not the best time to be doing so. Reducing consumption of such products well in advance will help restore a healthier immune system and in fighting of a flu virus.

Often, we minimize the impact that the flu has on our wellbeing by shrugging it off – “I only had the flu”. Each year in Canada, 4,000 to 8,000 people are carried away prematurely by flu outbreaks. If you are ill, stay home! Getting plenty of rest and fluids are the best measures to help fight of a flu infection. Also note that antibiotics are used for bacterial infections and should never be taken for a flu illness.

Lastly, education is an effective way of helping prevent the spread of germs. By putting posters up in visible locations within schools, daycare centres, nursing stations, Band offices or even public washrooms, this helps create better awareness amongst our community members and in ensuring that everyone is taking precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the flu virus.