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Swine Flu: Simple Self-Protection Measures You Can Use NOW

Sarah's picture

I've been on this soapbox before.

There are about six things you can do to be sure you don't get the swine flu.

Three of them are WASH YOUR HANDS:

  1. wash your hands after blowing your nose or sneezing,
  2. wash your hands after shaking hands or handling shared objects (door handles, telephones, pens, etc.),
  3. wash your hands BEFORE touching your eyes, nose, mouth or eating.

(Washing your hands after going to the toilet I shouldn't have to remind you of, but why not take advantage of opportunity?)

The fourth thing is don't panic. The fifth and sixth things are part of the same thing: minimize your exposure.

Given what we know right now, what "minimize your exposure" means is,

  1. don't hang out with people who are sneezing, coughing, or exhibiting runny noses;
  2. don't eat food contaminated by flies or other insects; don't drink untreated water.

Apart from that, unless your ordinary job involves hi-risk activities and hands-on care with potential flu victims (if, e.g., you're a cabin crewmember on a regular roundtrip to Mexico City or Vera Cruz; or you're a teacher in a preschool or day-care with a high percentage of migrant students / parents; or you're an ER receptionist, nurse, doc, or janitor) you should be okay just taking simple common-sense precautions.

In other words, if you haven't had your flu shot (the season is November-April) get one. If you have a compromised immune system, you probably should consult your healthcare provider. If your healthcare provider's phone /fax / email is swamped (it may be), consider calling your city or state public health department. (Many will refer you to their websites. In the spirit of community solidarity, this former public health worker will provide you with two websites: and .

The cases confirmed in Texas fell in a region other than the one I used to work for; having spent the time since last Thursday in El Paso (and eating out for every meal, as well as working in a couple hospital buildings while there) I can say with assurance I didn't see or hear any evidence of panic on the ground. But I was in El Paso; Mexico City, I'm reminded, is as distant from Ciudad Juarez as Austin is from Lubbock.

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a little night musing's picture
Submitted by a little night ... on

in a college (two of them, actually) which are highly populated by immigrants.

And they seem to come to class only when they are sick. (Confirmation bias I know, but that's how it seems.)

I was watching a couple of them during a test the other day, sniffling and sneezing (without covering their faces, natch) and wiping their noses with their fingers, which they then proceeded to use to handle the test papers.

Gah.

On the matter of the flu shot, what I've read indicates that the vaccine this time around is not effective against this strain. See the 4th comment here, describing a CDC Emergency clinician briefing:

More from Q&A: Current vaccine - 1 of the 8 US cases received current vaccine. Others either not vaccinated or unknown. Looking at cross-reactivity with seasonal H1N1. Preliminary evidence is that the current vaccine is not a good match. Vaccine development is underway - traditional and reverse genetics - and live virus vaccine.

Other information from the CDC cited in comments here: (revere @ 8:55 PM)

The degree of cross-reactivity with the H1 component of the season flu vaccine is unknown. CDC says the H1 is antigenically quite different but we know little about antibody response repertoire (see our post here that discusses the basic science).

lizpolaris's picture
Submitted by lizpolaris on

The ordinary precautions you describe seem sensible whether CNN is scaring us about the latest really scary thing or not.

It's bad that a group of maybe 18 people died in Mexico (that's the number you get if you read more about the 60 number). It's good they are trying to figure out why and prevent more deaths there. So far, it doesn't sound like anyone else in the world has a thing to worry about especially if they live in the US or Europe. Drink lots of fluids guys. Get some rest.

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

and be sure you don't touch your mouth, nose or eyes after handling those test papers until you've washed your hands.

What I'm hearing this evening is that there are 108 deaths to date, all told.
Don't know the total number of cases diagnosed.
Don't know the total number of illnesses -- some people won't have come to the doctors, some doctors won't have reported the patients, some doctors will attribute the illnesses / deaths to other conditions.

Some of those diagnoses and attributions will be correct; the information I've got doesn't include how many of the people who have become ill had or have comorbid conditions.

Oh, and wash your hands. Viral infections are opportunistic. Open skin (scratches, torn cuticles, a raw nose from congestion or excessive rhinitis) admits them; but so do mucus membranes (eye surfaces, nasal passages, lips/teeth/gums) upon contact.

basement angel's picture
Submitted by basement angel on

I didn't get a flu shot this year and boy, did I regret it. The dose I got lasted for almost four months, and even though I am over it now, every time I'm around someone who sneezes, I'm sick again.

Can I still get a flu shot and protect myself?

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

season's shot *might* still help. In your case, though, the thing to do is talk to a doctor, because I'm not at all sure if the flu you had is the same one as the shots would cover this time (they reformulate annually). I'm tempted to say it couldn't hurt, but if you're still having trouble it's worthwhile to be sure you're not exposing yourself to something your immune system isn't strong enough to fight off by getting that shot. In your case I'd say better safe than sorry is the key to your clarification.

basement angel's picture
Submitted by basement angel on

Nothin' gets me down. I have no idea how this happened. I'm taking your advice and calling the doc.

Thank you for the answer.

Submitted by hipparchia on

i've had flu a couple of times, both times i was young [20s] and healthy as a horse too, so flu shots weren't recommended. one of those times took 3 weeks or so to get over, but the other took 2 or 3 months.

splashy9's picture
Submitted by splashy9 on

Most of the time the tiredness and a bit of a cough lingers for at least a month after the acute stage, or more.

That's why I just don't want to get it in the first place. Takes too much time out of my life, and feels too bad.