The scenarios and predictions about the 2009-2010 flu season sound pretty scary, but Mom’s rules still provide the best defense: wash hands frequently — for at least 30 seconds — using hot water and soap; cough into your sleeve, not into your hands, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, keep your hands away from your mouth, nose and eyes; and if you have a fever or sore throat, stay home.
When the vaccine becomes available, get the shots (the “regular” flu vaccine is one shot, the vaccine for the new flu will require two shots, about three weeks apart).
Matt Bolinger, the director of the Gila County Division of Emergency Management and an epidemiologist, presented a program on the upcoming flu season Sept. 2 at the Payson High School auditorium.
He said Arizona has already had 1,157 reports of the H1N1 Novel Strain (swine) Flu. In the U.S. between April and July 24, there were 43,771 confirmed cases of H1N1.
Most of the confirmed cases were among those 5 to 25 years in age, Bolinger said. The fewest number were among those 65 and older.
“Somewhere 40 to 50 years ago, these older people were exposed to a flu similar to H1N1 and have antibodies in their systems that can fight it,” he said.
Bolinger reported that recently the Centers for Disease Control drew random blood samples and estimated as many as a million people actually had H1N1, but most were not reported.
During the regular flu season, between 5 and 10 percent of the U.S. population of 330 million become infected, 226,000 are hospitalized and on average, 36,000 people die from flu complications. Bolinger said officials are predicting between 30 and 50 percent of the population could contract the new flu and up to 90,000 deaths could result from complications.
The question is not whether the new flu is coming, but how virulent it will be. Bolinger said it will come in a big wave and is highly highly contagious, but currently does not appear to be airborne. Direct contact is needed for transmission. The new flu virus can remain active on hard surfaces for up to 24 hours.
There are about 500 effective disinfectants listed by the Environmental Protection Agency. Among those commonly available are Lysol or a 5 percent bleach solution, Bolinger said.
Every flu virus mutates, Bolinger said and there have been a few cases of the new flu that seem more severe than when it first appeared. The current prediction is that it will remain mild, but the recommendation is that at the first sign of a sudden fever (of 100 degrees or more) stay home for seven days.
“It takes that long for a body to shed the virus,” Bolinger said.
Other symptoms of the new flu, accompanying the sudden fever, are a sore throat, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, and in some instances diarrhea and vomiting, he said.
County shot clinics for the regular flu season will begin in late September. For the new flu, the vaccine will not be available until mid-October, Bolinger said. As plans are finalized, announcements will appear in the Roundup.
Bolinger recommends planning now to deal with the possible consequences of an outbreak of the flu — either the regular or new versions.
Ask yourself: do you have adequate supplies, are you (and your business) ready for social distancing (staying at home, staying away from gatherings, staying away from the store); can you operate your business (and do school work) from home?
He recommended stocking up on soap, disinfectant and masks to combat infection; and food and water in the event you get the flu, or must care for someone with it, for the seven days of isolation that is being encouraged.
Closing his program, Bolinger reiterated, “Hand washing is the No. 1 best thing to do.”