Health officials around the world have been gearing up in recent years for pandemic flu – a global outbreak of flu caused by a new type of virus that people have not been exposed to before or have not been exposed to in a long time. The virus would spread quickly around the world because people are not immune to it. Pandemics pop up periodically – most recently in 1918, 1957 and 1968 – and they can be very dangerous, especially for people with asthma, COPD and other respiratory conditions.
In June, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that Novel H1N1 influenza [link to our H1N1 page] (originally called “swine flu”) had become pandemic. So far, this virus has not been as serious a threat to health as was originally feared, but it is spreading quickly. Some health experts fear it will mutate into a more serious disease.
The World Health Organization says a pandemic flu can encircle the globe within three months. How long it takes to infect a community – and how long it stays – is impossible to estimate. If it infects masses of people at once, pandemic flu can be very disruptive to businesses, schools, government and local health services.
People with chronic health conditions like asthma and COPD are at increased risk of developing complications from any flu virus, but there are things you can do to prepare yourself and your family.
Use anchor links here:
PROTECT by practicing good health habits and updating your asthma action plan.
PREPARE your family’s supplies of medication and food
PREEMPT infection with good hygiene and simple prevention techniques
Protect against pandemic flu by practicing good health habits. Update your written, customized asthma treatment plan with your healthcare provider. Exercise, get enough sleep, eat a well-balanced diet, and minimize exposures to allergens, irritants and – most important – viruses!
- Visit your pediatrician or family physician for a checkup.
- Talk about ways to protect yourself from pandemic and seasonal flu
- Ask about actions to take at the first sign of flu symptoms
- Ask to be notified as soon as flu vaccines arrive
- Visit your asthma specialist
- Update your written, customized asthma action plan
- Ask for renewals on all your prescriptions
- Discuss and resolve concerns you may have about medications, including HFA bronchodilators
- Ask about medications to keep in stock at home, such as oral or inhaled bronchodilators and corticosteroids, auto-injectable epinephrine, antihistamines or decongestants
- Review your inhaler technique and discuss proper use of medications to avoid side effects
- Mask the problem
- Purchase N95 face masks (called respirators, available at most building supply stores) to wear to help keep flu-laden droplets out of your airways or to prevent sharing your germs with others. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has specific recommends these in certain circumstances for people at high risk of flu complications. Click here for information
- Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
- A tissue is ideal, but if you don’t have one when you’re out in public, cough or sneeze into your sleeve
- Consider carrying plastic baggies to hold used tissues until you can dispose of them
When your family is living with allergies, asthma or COPD, being prepared is the key to staying healthy. Keep records of your family’s medical history on hand, inspect medications and medical devices, and be ready for an extended stay at home if flu invades your community.
- Make note of your family’s medical needs.
- In cases of pandemic flu outbreak, communities could set up mass vaccination clinics or alternative medical care centers, so have medical history readily available for all family members
- Visit www.pandemicflu.gov/plan/individual/checklist.html to print a Family Emergency Health Information Sheet and an Emergency Contacts Form
- When pandemic flu breaks out, asthma medications could be in short supply. Refill all your prescriptions now and talk with your insurance provider if necessary to stock up on extras.
- Inspect nebulizers and nebulizer medications
- Make sure your nebulizer is in good working condition and that you have sufficient supplies of disposable and reusable parts
- Use only FDA-approved medications in your nebulizer. If you’re not sure what to look for, click here for information.
- Stock your pantry to avoid flu-laden lines at the grocery store.
- From granola to garbage bags, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has a list of suggested pantry supplies at www.pandemicflu.gov/plan/individual/checklist.html. This is even more important if someone in your family has food allergies.
- Check expiration dates on what’s already in your pantry and follow the practice of first-in, first-out to keep your supply fresh.
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and hot water, particularly after you cough or sneeze or before you eat
- Suds-up for at least 20 seconds to be sure the soap does its job
- If you have eczema, follow with a hand cream to seal your skin and keep out germs.
- When soap and water isn’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer wipe or gel. Wipe the gel around your hands until it’s dry to get full effect.
- Keep your nose clear. Your nose is the first line of defense against inhaled viruses and allergens, so help nasal passages work their best.
- Do daily nasal washes using premixed saline solutions or your own kosher salt/baking soda/distilled water mixture (see “It’s Not All in Your Head” for a recipe; or use saline nasal sprays
- Wash or spray the telephone with a disinfectant daily and keep keyboards (a major source of germs at schools and offices) and other electronic equipment clean.
For steps to take when flu infects your family, read Family Matters: Flu Preparedness At Home [link to other article]
- Up-to-date flu information: www.pandemicflu.gov
- Background information: www.cec.gov/flu
- Global information: www.int/csr/disease/swineflu/en
This article first appeared in Allergy & Asthma Today magazine, Summer 2006. For a free trial subscription to this award-winning quarterly, click here.
Updated by Laurie Ross, August 2009