Thursday, June 25, 2009

H1N1 confusing to most people - no surprise here!

As COHealth posted today, most people remain confused about the term H1N1. (Source: public poll conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health)

Just yesterday I contacted CDC about wanting a consistent way of referring to the virus, since a lot of CDC's stuff has different names. I said, "I thought I might suggest one convention among Colorado PIOs so we try to avoid confusing people. What do you think of 'new H1N1 flu virus' to keep it simple and appropriate for all literacy levels?" (After all, I am the co-chair of a national health literacy committee....)

CDC's response: the different names are on older web pages and all will be converted to the official and correct name:

"I think your suggest for Colorado is fine, but be advised that novel influenza A (H1N1) is the correct nomenclature for the new flu virus and will continued to be used by CDC and others. The reason for the variation in CDC documents is that the name change occurred midway through the event...."

So, what do you think, public health people? (And should we use this forum to discuss the pros and cons of each of these options?) Please respond by commenting!!

1. Should we use the official name of novel influenza A (H1N1)?

2. Should we adopt our own convention for Colorado and what should it be?

3. Should we let everyone call it whatever they want? (Most people would call it swine flu, including the media.)

Please respond here (using the comments feature) and ask others to read and respond as well!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What should everyone do to prepare for severe flu?

OK, so we know that public health agencies will be very busy this summer, to be ready in case the new H1N1 flu comes back and is more severe.

We all should be busy, too.

For individuals, this gives you a window of time to prepare yourselves and your families. Parents, teach your children how to cover their coughs and sneezes and wash their hands thoroughly - and do these things yourselves, too (those kids notice EVERYthing!).

If the virus returns and public health officials recommend staying at home, will your family be able to follow the recommendations? Can you stay at home, all of you, for two weeks?

We suggest a two-week period as this would be two cycles of flu, since it averages about a week. (So you would know if you were exposed within that two-week period, and if you were fine, you probably were not, or you have some immunity.)

Staying home for two weeks is a little more complicated than it might sound at first. It means that you can't go to the mall if school is closed or work shuts down, you can't go to a movie, and you shouldn't go to the grocery store. You only should leave if you need to seek medical care.

So what does it take? You'll need a two-week food supply - can you cope when you run out of fresh fruit and vegetables? Stock up on foods your family will eat. It's no fun to be home for two weeks with people who are unhappy with what there is to eat. It's true about chicken soup being helpful for flu (I've heard it's the thyme in the broth), so put some in your freezer or stock up on some cans of soup.

You need your prescription medicines that you take routinely and perhaps some over- the-counter remedies to help you get through the flu - acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin), something like Gatorade or Pedialyte, and maybe some anti-nausea medication for the kids. And don't forget the thermometer (and batteries?), tissues, toilet paper, paper towels, sanitary needs, hand, laundry and dish soap, and disinfectant.

Do you have pets? Make sure you have at least two weeks of extra food and other needed supplies for these loved ones, too. If you live alone, is there someone you can call for help if you get the flu and can't walk your dog?

How about cash - do you have enough on hand if you need to order groceries or medications, or hire some help?

Contact information - if you get sick, it would be great to have your contact information all in one place to share with your caretakers, whether at home or at an urgent care site.

Finally, how about recreation? How will your family stay occupied during a two-week period at home? Store some new games for the family, new books for each family member, and maybe some puzzles, movies, and toys. (Maybe it would be a good time to work on cleaning out some closets!)

Pandemonium about pandemic?

You probably heard that today the World Health Organization raised the level of pandemic alert to full pandemic. No pandemonium is needed.

What is important to remember is that this is a geographic designation, acknowledging the widespread illness resulting from the H1N1 virus. It does not mean that the virus is causing more severe illness.

When I look back on my post from May 22, what is most remarkable is that our information and messages have not changed. The good news about that is the virus is still stable, which makes efforts to create an effective vaccine possible.

So what should we do now?

In public health, we need to use this time to prepare for the fall in case the virus re-emerges. We don't know if it will; we don't know if it will be more severe; we don't know if we will have a vaccine. Regardless, there are many things we can do in the meantime. We have immunization and stockpile people thinking ahead; communicators can prepare information, too.

Tomorrow, look for a post on what individuals can do to prepare for the fall, in case we see the return of H1N1 in a more severe form.