There has been a slow start to flu season this year but the holidays have proven to be a breeding ground and now many are ill. At this time the greatest concentration of large outbreaks is the east coast of the United States. Parts of Europe and all around the globe are being affected as well.

This year’s flu is the same H1N1 flu that swept the world in 2009 affecting 74 countries and and territories, 24% of the world population was eventually infected. This is the definition of a pandemic, a flu affecting the entire world? Will this be another pandemic year? Not likely, but scientists warn flu virusus can mutate quickly.

One benefit of a repeat of H1N1 is because the virus was so widespread in 2009 many have a partial immunity. Do not count on this however. Take action now to prevent or limit the effects of the flu.

In a mild flu season as many as 12,000 people die in the U.S., and in a bad year, it could be as many as 56,000.

As you try to avoid catching the flu keep a few things in mind:

1. The flu virus can spread from one person to another up to six feet away. If you are sneezing please cover your sneeze and if you suspect you may have the flu please stay home. Anyone sneezing or breathing within six feet of you will gift you with the flu. This is why it spreads so quickly in schools.

2.  You may not know you have the flu for up to 48 hours after you are contagious. At this point you are already spreading the flu.

3. After getting the flu vaccine it will not be effective for up to two weeks. It takes your body this long to build up an immunity.

4. The flu vaccine this year is estimated to be only 60% effective. You may ask why vaccinate. Even if you get the flu the severity and length will be less with a vaccination. Because the flu mutates so easily some years vaccines are only 20% effective.

5. Flu germs will live on a hard surface 24 hours.

What should you do now?

Since even the seasonal flu such as we see this year can take weeks to go through a family, a three month supply of food and medications should be the goal. You may also be called upon to help family members and friends, who are ill and can not take care of their own needs, you will want to be prepared. 

Don’t forget the needs of pets. If you are too ill to get to the store will you have enough for them in the house? Store food, water and medications for pets as you would any other member of the family. 

Stock up on:

  • Prescription drugs to insure a continuous supply in your home. You may ask your doctor if he has samples or can help you to lawfully prepare. 
  • First aid supplies. 
  • Nonprescription drugs including pain and fever relievers, stomach remedies, anti diarrhea medications, cough and cold medicines and preventive medications.
  • Remember, never give young children aspirin. Purchase medications specifically designed for children.
  • Fluids with electrolytes.
  • Vitamins and zinc.
  • Anti bacterial wipes for cleaning up after attending to a patient. 
  • Hand sanitizers should also be included in your first aid supplies. These should be used every time you are with someone who is ill or after you shake hands with anyone. Remember the best sanitizer is still washing hands with soap and water.
  • Make sure you also have at least one thermometer on hand and alcohol to clean it.
  • Medical gloves are essential. Purchase a variety of sizes for the needs of all family members. Remember, some gloves are latex so if you think you may have a latex allergy use care in selecting gloves.
  • N95 particulate face masks. These will help prevent the transfer of germs as you are in public or caring for a loved one. There are many types of medical masks. The surgical variety will provide added protection from fluids. These are especially valuable when you are caring for someone who is sweating, sneezing or vomiting. For the best protection these need to fit firmly against the face. If you are using masks for children place the mask on the face and then a bandana. This will help to hold the mask firmly on their face. It can be like dress up! Make sure you remove the bandana and place it directly into the washer. Then discard the mask, preferably outside, and wash your child’s hands, face and exposed skin thoroughly with a hand sanitizer. I have heard people advise that masks do not need to be stored because they cannot be fitted tightly enough to the face. So long as hospitals, police and fire departments and schools are stocking up with supplies of masks for all their staff and students, I am stocking face masks, too. When they no longer consider it important, I will stop. Until then, I believe it is important. Masks should be changed every few hours.
  • Paper plates, cup, bowls, and utensils will cut down on the possibility that germs will be passed as meals are cleared. They will also save precious time for those who are the care givers and a must have should the power fail.
  • Paper towels, become essential items for keeping your home germ free. 
  • Stock up on TP and facial tissues with anti bacterial properties…you will use more than you think during a time of illness. 
  • Large plastic trash bags for soiled clothing, towels, and trash to keep the germs contained until you can launder them. 
  • Liquid soaps: laundry and dish soaps will be much more useful than powdered or tablets if there is an interruption in your utility service. 
  • Bleach for laundry and cleaning, and other disinfectant cleaning supplies should also be stored.
  • Gas up: As soon as you hear the flu has come to your region, fill all your cars with gas. You will want as little contact with germs on gas pumps and people pumping gas as possible. 

Whether you are trying to prevent disease or prevent it from spreading, you will want to take precautions in every aspect of your family routine. Now is the time to start by teaching and practicing good habits.

Begin by getting that flu shot, remember it take two weeks to work and flu season lasts thru February.

Teach your family the proper way to wash their hands. You do not need to use hand sanitizers on a daily basis. In fact, this can prove dangerous as sanitizers kill all germs, good and bad. Hands should be washed with plenty of water, soap and scrubbing. Practice rubbing all the surfaces of the hands, including the fingernails and between fingers, under running water every time you wash.  Since this needs to take some time children can learn to be patient and sing either Happy Birthday or the ABC Song while scrubbing. This will help them to recognize the length of time necessary to do a thorough washing. 

Avoid shaking hands with someone who is ill, begin the habit now. If this is impossible, thoroughly wash your hands as soon as possible or use a hand sanitizer. 

Teach family members to always cough or sneeze into a tissue. If this is impossible teach them to cover their face with their arm, not their hands. Simple bend your arm and place your elbow over your mouth. This reduces the likelihood that you will pass germs along to others as you shake hands or touch objects they may also be handling. 

Remind your family to stay away from those who are ill. Please don’t send an ill child to school, to after school music lessons, or even to church when they are ill. We could avoid so much heartache if everyone would make it a practice to stay home when they are ill.

Prepare now to work from home if at all possible. You should discuss this with your employer and develop a plan now. 

You will never regret preparing and not needing your preparations but you will regret not preparing and needing it. 

Carolyn is beginning a new year of preparing tips and challenges on her facebook page, be sure to check it out.