May 1, 2009

This is me, not panicking

By now, if you haven't heard of the imminent swine-flu epidemic, I'm not sure what you've been doing with your internet surfing time, but it hasn't involved keeping up to date with current affairs.

Here in New Zealand we've got 4 confirmed cases, 12 probable cases, 116 suspected cases and 388 people in isolation. Out of a total population of 4 million. Which is either massive or miniscule depending on how you look at it, I guess.

So, naturally, my thoughts have turned to what I can do here and now to prepare for an actual epidemic, should it come to that.

Step one of the flu prep kit
What you see here is the fruit of my first rush of blood to the head.
  • 3 weeks supply of paracetamol for 2 adults (each adult may take 2 tablets, 4 times per day. That's a lot of tablets!). Paracetamol is for controlling fever and easing the achy symptoms of flu. If the 'flu comes to our house, Merl and I will need this to make sure that the kids get looked after, food gets organised, dishes get cleaned, that sort of stuff - even when we are sick ourselves.
Okay, sure we probably won't need an entire 3 weeks supply, and it probably isn't good for you to take that much every day for 3 weeks - but I've erred on the side of caution. I'd also hate to need paracetamol for a headache and find that everyone else has beaten me to the supermarket that day.
  • paracetamol for the kids.
Sick kids are miserable. Ease their symptoms any way possible.
  • hand sanitiser (in pump bottle) For when we are out in public - I have sent one of these with Merl to his work and one lives in the car. You're looking at the spare one. We 'wash' our hands when we get back to the car after being in the library, the supermarket, anywhere that people may have coughed or sneezed and then put their hands on what we've touched.
This is a new thing for us. I've never done this before, although I do know people who do this as a matter of course. It has always seemed a little too far toward paranoia for me. But there you go. I must remember to pack some into my tinfoil hat.
  • honey, garlic, ginger, cayenne pepper. Ingredients for my kick-a-germ joy juice. I've got lemons on the shopping list. This is good for the early, shivery stages of flu, according to my alternative medicine guide. Fever can be eased with elderflower, peppermint and yarrow infusions, apparently.
Personally, my money is on the paracetamol, but a good strong herbal tonic with honey makes you feel better. And if the swine flu actually does come to town, we'll be fighting it with all guns blazing. We have peppermint in the garden (and I saw some yarrow the other day, too, now that I think of it). Perhaps I should go on a herb gathering expedition this weekend and get some drying in preparation.
  • tea tree oil. A decongestant, antiseptic all-round goody. Use for head-pickling or room-infusion.
This is fabulous when the kids are night-coughing. I have an old thermal coffee mug that I half-fill with boiling water, drop 3 or 4 drops of tea tree oil onto the top, and leave the mug steaming in their room. Sometimes I'll refresh the hot water in the middle of the night. This really does seem to ease their coughing.
  • Vicks vapor-rub. One of those strong-smelling eucalyptus, camphor, linamint rubs for rubbing on the chest.
I can't use this directly on Miss5's skin - she comes out in an irritation rash - but I wipe some on a tissue and pop it inside her pillowslip to help her breathing. She doesn't get the chest-warming benefits, but something is better than nothing! Miss2's skin is not so delicate so we can use it normally with her.

In my thinking, there are multiple layers of preparedness for the 'flu.

1. Preventing the spread
2. Dealing with the immediate effects of the 'flu illness
3. Preparing for possible complications of the 'flu itself
4. Preparing for possible social implications of the 'flu

Let's take these one at a time

1. Preventing the spread
For now, I'm happy with hand-sanitizing when we're out. If an actual epidemic is declared, we'll look at keeping away from libraries, supermarkets, swimming pools and the like. In preparation for this, we should check our pantry for essential supplies. Do we have enough of the basics to skip the supermarket for a couple of weeks if we have to?

Also, there may be people in our family/community who need us to care for them while they are ill. How can we minimise risk of catching the 'flu from them and bringing it home? Should we consider face masks? Disposable gloves? For us, this will depend on how fatal this 'flu turns out to be.

2. Dealing with the immediate effects of the 'flu illness
Not much you can do here, beyond what you'd normally do for a 'flu. Stay home, stay in bed, keep your fluids up, take paracetamol.

There is tamiflu, of course, but in NZ at present that's only available over the counter from the pharmacy if the pharmacist actually sees you and confirms you are suffering from 'flu-like symptoms. Or you can get it on prescription, but most doctors are only writing scripts if you actually have the 'flu. Which is all very sensible. The last thing we need is for people to be downing tamiflu like water at the first sign of a cold-virus, and creating the ideal conditions for tamiflu-resistant influenza. Regardless, in NZ just now, tamiflu is available if you have the 'flu - but it's not part of your preparedness kit.

Basically, ease your symptoms, and go to the doctor if you think it is swine flu, or if you suspect secondary bacterial infection, which can cause bronchitis and pneumonia.

3. Preparing for possible complications of the 'flu itself
This is the bronchitis/pneumonia bit. The very young and the very old seem to die of secondary complications of the 'flu. This is why it's important to keep them coughing the phlegm up. The first reason is so that it doesn't sit in their chest and foster infection. The second reason is so you can keep an eye on it to notice if it looks infected (brown or green phlegm is bad - go to the doctor for antibiotics, and really go to town with garlic and tea tree oil).

Oddly, in pandemic 'flu (as opposed to seasonal 'flu) there is often a bunch of people who die at the peak of their fitness, aged 20-40 years old. This is from what is called a 'cytokine storm' - essentially a super-effective immune response that leads to massive organ failure. There's nothing you can do about this except hope it doesn't happen to you.

4. Preparing for possible social implications of the 'flu
This is wide-ranging, and depends on how severe the 'flu gets. If the polio epidemics of my grandmother's childhood is anything to go by, the schools, theaters, swimming pools and all other communal type activities will close down for some months. This wasn't such a big deal when everyone had a huge veggie garden and nobody considered hanging out at the mall a valid social pastime. So at one level, this comes back to making sure you have plenty of food in the cupboards, to minimise those trips to the supermarket.

It also means making sure you have some board games, books, DVDs, computer games, bikes, a trampoline, a deck of cards... whatever it takes to amuse you and your family without leaving your neighbourhood. As home edders, we're pretty used to having our kids around 24/7, but if you're not, you should brace yourself for a couple of weeks for a form of culture shock - as you get used to hanging out with each other a lot more than you have been.

And of course, the darker side could be more job losses than we've already seen (especially if there is a massive shut-down of the CBD), meaning even less money. Meaning a well stocked pantry, a little bit of savings and perhaps some judicious spending before the going gets really bad, could go a long way.

By judicious spending, I mean things like making sure the kids have their winter coats and shoes bought, or putting in a veggie garden. I don't mean replacing the lounge furniture because you don't like the colour any more...

So there we have it - my personal take on the swine flu and what I consider to be sensible precautions.


rochelle said... - Check out the first interview.

To put swine flu in perspective, New Zealand has around 400 cases of tb a year...

Hope you are taking care of yourself,


rochelle said...

hmmm... that link didn't show well- nine to noon Mon 27 April.

home handymum said...

Hi Rochelle,

Yeah, I know, and at the moment it looks like this is going to be no worse (in terms of fatality) than the normal seasonal 'flu. But all the same, I feel happy about having lots of paracetamol on hand.

rochelle said...

Yeah, I have to confess that paracetamol is my drug of choice :)

take care,


Miss Maccy said...

Ooooh tin foil hat! Knew I'd missed something off my list. LOL.

We've given up on Vicks Vapour rub. I have heard that normal vaseline works just as well. Some people swear that using Vicks on the feet is the way to go. However, we use a vapouriser machine (yeah, actually a Vicks branded one I believe) and use soluble eucalyptus oil in it. I don't know how easy that would be to find across the ditch. There's not shortage of it over here. Works brilliantly.

Newer Post Older Post Home