“Did you wash your hands?” That is what I have been hearing myself say more times a day than ever before. We’ve all heard this refrain from doctors, from experts on the news, from friends and neighbors; and I, for one, am taking their advice seriously this time. Why? Because I don’t want anyone in my family getting, suffering or dying from the swine flu.
In case you didn’t get the memo, the swine flu is back and taking health, sick days and lives in the process. While we all had thought that the swine flu disappeared after its wrath of terror in 2009 and 2010, it has unfortunately returned. Headlines from my local papers have gotten me even more worried. Stories like “Bay Area: Four more swine flu deaths reported,” and “Swine flu is back in California—and it's starting to kill again,” TOTALLY FREAK ME OUT. Yes, words like “deaths” and “kill” cause me to have an episode of all-caps angst.
If you don’t recall from last time, the CDC is here to remind us that “Swine influenza (swine flu) is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza viruses that regularly cause outbreaks of influenza in pigs.” But there are variant viruses—most notably H1N1—that are making the rounds among us humans and cause us to become very, very sick.
The fact that people are dying is all we need to know.
Back when the swine flu first attacked, it claimed the lives of about 284,000 people worldwide. This year there is not a clear number of how many have died from the flu (swine or otherwise) but CNNreports that, “Experts estimate the number of flu-related deaths range from as low as 3,000 to as high as 49,000 people each year.” It doesn’t matter where in that range it falls. The fact that people are dying is all we need to know. Keep in mind that every year people die from the flu no matter what kind. At greatest risk are those over 65, those under the age of 5, and those with preexisting medical conditions. But the H1N1 virus doesn’t seem to judge victims by their age—in California about 45 people under the age of 65 have died from complications from the flu, including children.
What can you do to keep healthy? Here are some important things you need to know about our current flu season:
Wash your hands. No really, wash your hands. Wash them when you get home from doing errands, before you eat, after handling money or touching anything out there in the world. I know you are busy, but don’t do a quick splash; make sure to use hot water and soap and count to 20.
Carry hand sanitizer with you. Often we go hours without access to soap and water. Having hand sanitizer available to kill any germs that could be stowing away on your skin is a great addition to your purse.
Don’t touch your face, and especially avoid germ-spreading activities like nibbling on your fingers or picking your nose—although we knowyou would never do that.Plus, make sure to remind your kids to not indulge in those bad habits.
Get the flu shot. Many opt not to get the flu shot for a variety of reasons, but if you haven’t and you don't happen to have an issue with vaccines, this is a great year to get one. According to reports, this year’s flu vaccine covers this particular H1N1 strain.
If you are sick, stay home! Don’t try to be a martyr. Not only will your recovery take longer, but you could also infect others.
I know we have all heard these things before, but a reminder to stay healthy is always a good thing. Now, go wash your hands.