Swine flu: what you can and can't do

Influenza kills somewhere around 36,000 Americans every year (and perhaps twice that number, depending on the estimate). The novel A H1N1 (“swine”) flu circulating this year has found a world population with little natural immunity (at least those of us under 65—older folks may have some immunity from previous pandemics). The attack rate is ridiculously high, but the virulence is thankfully not much worse than other seasonal influenza. Unfortunately, the virulence doesn’t have to be higher to increase the total number of hospitalizations and deaths.


Now, here’s what won’t help: dietary supplements, special foods, vitamins, homeopathic potions, massage, aromatherapy, prayer, magic spells, or chiropractic manipulation. The virus doesn’t care about any of these. They haven’t been shown to help, and there is no plausible mechanism whereby they could help. Don’t waste your time or money.
So what can we do to prevent ourselves from becoming victims? Vaccination is, of course, the best defense. It’s being recommended especially for those at highest risk, including health care workers, pregnant women, people under 65 with chronic health problems including asthma, diabetes, and obesity, and young people (6 months to 24 years old).
Each year, flu vaccines are developed by tracking which strains are circulating and manufacturing a specific vaccine using chicken eggs. This vaccine isn’t terribly different so there’s no reason to expect any unusual reactions.
Many people won’t get vaccinated, or will be exposed to the flu before they can get the shot. People who are allergic to eggs, for example, can’t generally get flu shots. But there’s a lot we can do as individuals and as a society to mitigate the pandemic.
First, we have to get over hand-shaking. Smile, bow, nod, whatever, but right now is a good time to stop shaking hands. Frequent use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers when soap and water isn’t available is a good idea, especially if you have to use your hands on frequently-touched objects such as doorknobs or handrails on the subway. Cough and sneeze into the crook of your elbow instead of your hand. And if you get typical flu symptoms—fever, muscle aches, cough—DON’T GO TO WORK. And bosses out there, you need to make clear to your employees that they will not be penalized for staying home for at least three days after the fever breaks. The loss of productivity will be balanced by your ability to keep your other employees well.

16 Comments

  1. ‘DON’T GO TO WORK. ”
    I remember the last time I came down with the flu. I was clearly feverish, with sweat dripping off my body, vomiting every so often, and obivously messed eyes.
    However, I worked fast food. So, lacking sick leave, insurance, or savings to cover my bills, I went to work and made the food. When the customers and my boss objected, I told them give me money. Nobody would, so you can guess what happened.

  2. khan

     /  September 2, 2009

    I have always thought hand shaking a barbaric custom.
    Is inability to take off for being sick another problem with our frakked healthcare system?
    Should I (59 retired female) seek a swine flu shot? (will get seasonal shot)

  3. Thank you for the information.
    What do you think of this?
    http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/newsletter/h1n1-flu-and-vitamin-d.shtml

  4. Eamon

     /  September 2, 2009

    “Don’t got to work” in Japan translates to “go in, but try to wear a mask”.

  5. Jeff

     /  September 3, 2009

    Most of PAL’s suggestions are excellent. However I object to dietary supplements being placed in the same category as homeopathic potions, aromatherapy, and magic spells.
    For anyone interested in a natural method of virus prevention, I recommend this article: Defending Yourself Against Virus Infections.
    On of the substances recommended is quercetin. I found this Korean cell study which seems to suggest quercetin inhibits virus replication better than oseltamivir(tamiflu).
    To TM: I also subscribe to the Vitamin D Council newsletter and think it an excellent source of information.

  6. Ramel

     /  September 3, 2009

    Why is it almost impossible to take a site called “Life-Enhancement.com” seriously? Especialy when it sells supplements… Oh and look, the article ends with a box containing the words

    *This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

    Now where have we seen that before?

  7. Ramel

     /  September 3, 2009

    And a little digging gives articles from the Vitimin D Council on Mercola, so credibility: FAIL.

  8. “People who are allergic to eggs, for example, can’t generally get flu shots.”
    As someone who seems to have developed an allergy to flu shots later in life, let me say: please go get them if you’re not allergic! The life you save may be mine…

  9. catgirl

     /  September 3, 2009

    Excuse the naive question, but will the swine flu vaccine be separate from the regular flu shot? Even though I’m young and relatively healthy, I always get a flu shot, and I wonder if I need to make sure to get both this year. I know that flu shots are recommended for high-risk groups, but my reasoning is that if I don’t get it, that will protect those groups even more because I’ll be less likely to spread it to them.

  10. PalMD

     /  September 3, 2009

    Seasonal flu shots are arriving now for general use. We’re trying to get them done ASAP so we have the capacity to give the swine flu series when it comes in in Oct/Nov.

  11. Rita

     /  September 3, 2009

    What about those of us who live in places where it’s obligatory to kiss everyone twice (each cheek) when meeting or leaving them?……….Especially events like all coming back to work after August holidays………….

  12. Rita

     /  September 3, 2009

    Oh, I should have mentioned that it’s also a place with full National health care, so you can stay off work without starving, because you get full pay for sick leave.

  13. rob

     /  September 3, 2009

    what have you all heard about having been vaccinated in the 70’s for the previous swine flu scare? is it true that if you were, you may still have some immunity, like the >65 crowd?

  14. Lola

     /  September 3, 2009

    I work at a hospital and if you are off work for ANY reason except hospitalization, you get an occurrence. If you get the flu and stay home and you have one occurrence left before probation, you get probation. If you are already on probation and need one more occurrence to get terminated and you get the flu, then you are terminated. They sent out memos that you must stay home if you have the flu and so many days after. Is this a joke or what?

  15. Kim

     /  September 3, 2009

    Wait a minute, why are you advocating vaccination for the typical seasonal flu age distribution (young and old), when this flu disproportionately effects people in their 30s and 40s?

  16. PalMD

     /  September 4, 2009

    Kim, reread the post

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