Surviving Swine Flu
You're probably going to get swine flu, and there's really no need to freak out. Most people are surviving it just fine. Sure, fear-mongering news reporters love nothing better than a global pandemic to boost their ratings with sensationalist coverage of school shut-downs and hospitalizations, but while swine flu is no picnic, it doesn't look like it's going to wipe out civilization as we know it.
Let's go ahead and take a fatalistic approach to this virus. We're going to get it, and we're probably going to survive it; but those who are in high-risk catgories need to take special precautions. Wash your hands all you want; it's a virus, and it will travel.
We need a level-headed approach to combating this illness, and with a vaccine still not available to the public, it's important to take stock of your health and protect yourself and your loved ones before the flu season really takes off.
Know if you are at risk
You expect the flu to pick off the old and infirm, but this flu is different. You might not be happy to hear that most of the 77 swine-flu related deaths recently studied by the CDC had underlying conditions like asthma or diabetes that complicated their illness (10% of the U.S. population has diabetes; 16.4% has asthma). If you are asthmatic, your condition can be aggravated by respiratory complications associated with the flu, so have your fast-acting bronchial dilator on hand and talk to your doctor about other precautions you might want to take. Diabetics are slower to heal and more prone to infections, so discuss a proactive approach with your doctor before you get sick.
Consider a pneumonia vaccination
The swine flu vaccine itself is days or possibly weeks away, and the biggest risk of the flu isn't really the flu virus itself, but rather the bacterial infections that strike once your immune system has been weakened by the flu. Data from the CDC suggests what most doctors probably could have guessed: up to 29% of people who have died while infected with the swine flu have also had accompanying infections like pneumonia. I didn't even know that you could get a vaccine for pneumonia until recently, but apparently this underused treatment is fairly effective. The vaccine only needs to be given twice in a lifetime, and although it only covers a couple dozen strains of pneumonia (there are more than 80 different types), most infections are caused by the 23 strains of bacteria that are included in the vaccine. Pregnant/nursing women and children under the age of two are not generally vaccinated.
I've been calling around, and the price of a pneumonia vaccine seems to range between $30-55. That's not exactly cheap, but for an asthmatic like me, it's cheaper than a trip to the emergency room (again). Check your local pharmacy or clinic to see if they are offering pneumonia vaccines; many pharmacies are scheduling vaccination clinics that include the flu shot and pneumonia vaccinations at the same time. The vaccine isn't always covered by insurance.
Exercise and eat well
This is obviously something everyone should be doing already, but if today is the first day that you put down the bag of Doritos and take a slow walk around the block, so be it. You don't have to deprive yourself and go crazy with a weight-loss scheme; just add some fresh fruit and veggies (the darker, the better — think berries and kale) to your daily food intake and find ways to keep your blood pumping, even if it means long, leisurely walks around the block. Take deep breaths and try to slowly expand your lung capacity. Don't exhaust yourself, because that can just make you more prone to illness.
Get enough Vitamin D
Many people live with vitamin D deficiency, and it can be difficult to tell that you have one without a blood test. Vitamin D may play an essential role in keeping your immune system, particularly your respiratory system, healthy. There are few ways to get enough vitamin D, but you can take supplements, drink vitamin D-fortified milk (3 glasses a day), or make a point of spending at least 15 minutes a day outside during the sun's peak hours (11AM-1PM).
Get plenty of sleep
The flu hits those who are most vulnerable, and that includes not just the old and sick, but also the physically exhausted. Most people don't get nearly enough sleep on a daily basis, so if it means that you have to skip your favorite TV shows for a few weeks to get some more shut-eye, so be it. Remember, unless you are one of those rare genetic mutants who only needs 6 hours of sleep per night, you should be striving for somewhere around 8.5 hours of quality sleep.
If you get sick...
If you've managed to catch the swine flu, you can still take steps to avoid the worst aspects of the disease. The usual advice still applies: get plenty of rest, stay home if you can, remain hydrated, and allow people to tell you how good chicken soup is for you. For most people, this should be enough.
For those with immuno-suppressive disorders or anyone considered "high-risk," you might want to take an anti-viral medication within the first 24 hours of the onset of flu symptoms. Pneumonias develop when mucus and fluids in the lungs become infected with bacteria, which happens when the mucus is allowed to hang out and fester. To prevent pooling of mucus:
- Assuming you don't have any other conditions that would prevent this (like fresh stitches from an appendectomy), cough. Force yourself to cough; this moves the phlegm around in your chest and disrupts bacterial growth.
- When not sleeping, try to rest in an upright position.
- Try to move around when you are sleeping. Don't just stay flat on your back for many hours at a time.
- If you develop a cough that isn't bringing up much phlegm, and you have your doctor's go-ahead, get your hands on a good expectorant that contains Guaifenesin, like Mucinex. Expectorants help to thin the mucus out, so that you can bring it up when you cough. Breaking up this nastiness and coughing it out is crucial to preventing infection.
- If you are asthmatic, be vigilant and keep in touch with your doctor as necessary. At the first instance of respiratory distress, get thee to a medical facility.
**I am not a doctor, and nothing in this article should be construed as me giving medical advice. However, most of the tips given here do come from the Center for Disease Control or other reputable sources, so I promise that I am not just making stuff up. Please consult your physician before undertaking any new medical treatments.**