You no doubt have heard or read reports about the international 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak affecting many countries, including the United States. This new strain of influenza, which is spread among humans, is the subject of ongoing investigation.
International public-health authorities, including the World Health Organization and our own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are providing daily updates of the situation and recommendations to medical providers and the general public.
While it's certainly a cause for concern, public-health authorities are advocating for calm. The purpose of this article is to reinforce the actions that can be taken now by individuals to mitigate the effects of this illness.
The most important focus for everyone right now should be close attention to personal hygiene. Specifically, the practice of good habits, such as frequent hand washing, are essential to reduce the spread of illness. Thorough hand washing with soap and water or the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers have proved effective.
You should cover your nose and mouth with your elbow or a sleeve when you cough or sneeze to reduce the spread of illness. Encourage your children to do the same. Try not to touch your mouth, nose or face, because infection can spread this way.
Otherwise healthy people who have traveled to an H1N1 flu-affected area and with milder influenza-like illness should stay home, get plenty of rest and fluids, and minimize exposure to other people. Symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat, muscle aches and tiredness. Those with compromised immune systems and those with more severe symptoms should seek medical care.
Thus far, routine testing and treatment of individuals with mild influenza-like illness is not recommended. Those with mild illness and no other risk factors are unlikely to benefit from a visit to the doctor. When in doubt, contact your doctor's office before making the trip for a medical evaluation.
It has been a long-standing recommendation of the CDC to have a two-week supply of food, potable water and other supplies in your home to sustain your family in the event of a widespread infectious illness.
If a community outbreak occurs, and on the advice of public-health authorities, people with nonessential occupations may be able to minimize spread of illness simply by staying home. Additional supplies that might be helpful include certain over-the-counter medications, hand sanitizer and facial tissues, a radio and batteries. For a list of recommended supplies, visit the pandemic flu Web site at www.pandemicflu.gov.
For more information about H1N1 flu and things you can do to prepare and protect yourself, get the informational brochure "H1N1 Flu and You" from the CDC's Web site at www.cdc.gov.
So that local medical and public-health resources are not overwhelmed with routine questions and to promote a consistent message, public-health authorities recommend you call the Colorado Helpline at (877) 462-2911 if you need basic information about the 2009 H1N1 flu.
Dr. Matthew A. Clark is a
board-certified physician in internal medicine and pediatrics practicing at the Southern Ute Health Center in Ignacio.