A pandemic is a global outbreak of a serious infectious disease, and public health officials have recently said that we may be closer to a new pandemic now than at any time since , when the Hong Kong flu killed as many as , people worldwide.
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Here are a number of simple ways to help keep yourself safe. To create this article, 20 people, some anonymous, worked to edit and improve it over time. This article has also been viewed 30, times. Categories: Influenza from Animal Sources Epidemics. Learn more Don't count on a vaccine being available. The flu vaccine that is currently used for seasonal flu will not work against avian influenza. New strains of the virus require new vaccines, and these can take months or years to develop and even longer to produce and distribute on a large scale.
Should a pandemic of any kind flare up, the World Health Organization WHO , the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC , and other governmental and non-governmental organizations will provide information on the spread of the disease, as well as updates on vaccines or other medications, tips for keeping yourself safe, and travel advisories. The WHO and CDC, as well as various national governments, already have websites in place to provide useful planning information to the public. Newspapers and TV and radio broadcasts will also help disseminate critical warnings and advice.
Get your yearly flu vaccine shot. While the current vaccine won't protect you from Avian flu or any other "new" strains of the virus, it can help you stay healthy by protecting you some flu virus strains , which may in turn help your body to fight the virus better if you do become infected.
Get a pneumonia vaccine shot. In past influenza pandemics, many victims succumbed to secondary pneumonia infection. While the pneumonia vaccine cannot protect against all types of pneumonia, it can improve your chances of surviving the pandemic. The vaccine is especially recommended for people over the age of 65 or those who have chronic illnesses such as diabetes or asthma. Use anti-viral medications if advised to do so by a health professional or by the government. Two antiviral medications, Tamiflu and Relenza Zanamivir , have shown the potential to effectively prevent and treat avian flu.
These are both available only by prescription and will probably be effective only if taken before infection or very shortly afterward. It should be noted that additional testing is necessary to determine how effective these drugs really are against avian flu. Furthermore, mutations in the avian flu virus may render them ineffective in time.
Wash your hands frequently. Handwashing may be the single most powerful defense against avian influenza and many other infectious diseases. If pandemic strikes, you should wash your hands several times a day. Make sure that you use proper [[Wash Your Hands handwashing technique.
Since it's probably not feasible to wash your hands every time you touch something that may carry the virus, you should carry an alcohol-based hand cleaner with you at all times. These cleaners come in a variety of forms, and can be used any time you need a quick touch-up. Keep in mind, however, that the use of these cleaners is not a substitute for thoroughly washing your hands, and they should only be used to supplement hand washing.
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Avoid exposure to infected birds. Right now, the only documented way to become infected with avian influenza is by coming into contact with infected birds or poultry products, and these routes of infection will continue even if the virus mutates so that human-to-human transmission becomes the greatest threat.
Avoid handling wild birds, and try to prevent domestic animals such as house cats from coming into contact with birds.
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If you work in proximity to dead or live poultry--on a farm or in a poultry-processing facility, for example--take precautions such as wearing gloves, respirators, and safety aprons. Proper cooking kills the avian influenza virus. Exercise social distancing.
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The most effective way to prevent becoming infected with avian influenza is to avoid exposure to infected people. Unfortunately, it's not possible to determine who is infected and who is not--by the time symptoms appear, a person is already contagious. Social distancing, deliberately limiting contact with people especially large groups of people , is a reasonable precaution to take in the event of a pandemic.
Stay home from work. If you're sick or if others at your workplace have become sick, you should stay away from your workplace even in the absence of a pandemic. Given that people will generally be infected and contagious before they exhibit symptoms, however, during a pandemic it's essential to stay away from places, such as work, where you have a high probability of being exposed to an infected person.
Try to work from home. A pandemic can last for months or even years, and waves of intense local outbreaks can last for weeks, so it's not like you can just take a few sick days to protect yourself from workplace infection. If possible, try to arrange a work-from-home situation. A surprising variety of jobs can now be accomplished remotely, and employers will likely be willing--or even required--to try this out if a pandemic strikes. Keep children home from school. Any parent knows that kids pick up all kinds of bugs at school.
Avian influenza is one bug that you certainly don't want your kids picking up. Avoid public transportation. Buses, planes, boats, and trains place large numbers of people in close quarters. Public transportation is the ideal vehicle for widespread spread of infectious disease. Stay away from public events. During a pandemic, governments may cancel public events, but even if they don't, you should probably stay away from them.
Any large gathering of people in close proximity creates a high-risk situation. Wear a respirator. The influenza virus can be spread through the air, so in the event of a pandemic it's a good idea to protect yourself from inhalation of the virus if you're out in public.
While surgical masks only prevent the wearer from spreading germs, respirators which often look like surgical masks protect the wearer from inhaling germs. You can buy respirators that are designed for one-time use, or you can buy reusable ones with replaceable filters. Respirators only provide protection when worn properly, so be sure to follow the instructions exactly--they should cover the nose, and there should be no gaps between the mask and the side of the face. Wear medical gloves. I think any of the larger hospitals here, if they had a suspicion that this could be an infectious disease that required appropriate precaution, I think it would probably happen properly with the appropriate isolation and all the other things you hear about, with equipment and practices for infection control for the staff and anyone who comes in contact with the patient.
Now, if they get sick in the city, after they've come from wherever they were, then that will depend on where they go for treatment — whether they go to the emergency room, whether they see a local physician. Then you'd put them into isolation if they looked really sick.
So I think it really depends on somebody being knowledgeable enough. In Nigeria, the patient flew from Liberia and was admitted to the hospital. He was already sick but they didn't put him into isolation and take the appropriate precautions to protect the staff and the other patients for 24 hours. That's how I think some of the staff, sadly, got infected.
Moving into the theoretical future, what kinds of emerging viruses could we see? How well are we prepared to handle a virus that comes as a surprise? It's always easier to prepare for the known, especially when you have warning from somebody else experiencing it and suffering through it.
People always ask me which emerging viruses do I worry the most about, and I always say the ones we haven't found yet, because we're least prepared for that. If they show infectious signs, like a seizure or severe flu-like illness — these all start like flu-like illnesses and sort of rapidly get worse — hopefully in North American and Western Europe we would all have the awareness to take the appropriate infection control precautions and, as we do with Ebola, treat the patient symptomatically, give them the best supportive treatment until hopefully they get better or whatever.
Obviously we would be trying to identify the virus in the laboratory. There are some more generic ways to do that now with sequencing, and there are some broad-based techniques that will identify even some viruses of known families but which are themselves unknown. But as for the precautions, I think they would generally be fairly similar.
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