Bless You (Again)!

This time we are talking about flu, not cute primates with upturned noses. It’s that time of year again, at least in the southern hemisphere, and there are a few simple precautions you can take to help you through.

As previously mentioned in Vaccination 101 there are lots of different flu viruses that, unlike leopards, do change their spots regularly. This makes it impossible to control all of them with a single vaccine. However, each year the World Health Organisation recommends which three flu strains to stick in the current year’s vaccine, and I certainly recommend getting it. It stops you feeling miserable and may even save your life. If work places displayed any common sense they would vaccinate all their employees for free. The savings in sick leave taken would surely compensate for the cost of the vaccination. But you don’t have to be vaccinated if you don’t want to. Your plane won’t be shot down, you won’t be rounded up and forcibly jabbed and you won’t be stopped from travelling and infecting other people.

The trouble with flu viruses is they get around, fast. It is estimated that, if a new flu strain emerged in Europe, it would hit Australia in four to eight weeks, despite our relative isolation from the rest of the world. While the H1N1 flu turned out to be relatively benign (only killing 0.03% of the people it infected) it did hit 70 million people. The H5N1 flu has killed 60% of its victims but has only infected 600 people (http://www.who.int/influenza/human_animal_interface/EN_GIP_20120607CumulativeNumberH5N1cases.pdf). Because it targets receptors in the lower respiratory tract it is harder to spread but more deadly. Unfortunately it would not take many mutations for H5N1 to start spreading like H1N1. Then we’ll see who thinks vaccination is a waste of time.

Apart from receiving a needle the best form of prevention has been discussed previously. Boring though it sounds, here it is: wash your hands, with soap, regularly. Flu viruses survive in the air for up to an hour, on hands for five minutes, on soft cushions for 20 minutes and on hard surfaces for 24 hours. So, every time your flu sufferer touches anything they will also be applying a liberal dose of virus. When you then touch the same surface, or shake that hand, you also receive a helping of virus. Alternatively use alcohol wipes on your hands. Monk wasn’t nearly as crazy as he was made out to be in his TV series.

Depending on your level of paranoia you could also avoid crowded areas such as public transport, classrooms and offices, as these all have lots of possibly contagious people and minimal air movement. Stay away from small children and keep at least two metres between yourself and your infected colleagues.

Unfortunately the time when people are most contagious and shedding the most virus is a day or two before they develop symptoms. They will remain contagious for about another four days after symptoms start, so do yourselves, and the rest of the world, a favour. Stay home and finish that book, win that Playstation Stanley Cup or watch all those episodes of Get Smart you always promised yourself you would. And, in the words of Sergeant Phil Esterhaus from Hillstreet Blues, “Let’s be careful out there.”

Dr. F. Bunny

And if you’re still not convinced see: http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/1667868/Deadly-flu-season-hits-Australia-hard

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