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April 27, 2009
By: Hilzoy

Swine Flu: What We Should Do for One Another

What follows is a guest post by Ruth A. Karron and Ruth R. Faden. Ruth A. Karron is the director of the Center for Immunization Research and Johns Hopkins Vaccine Initiative at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Ruth R. Faden is the executive director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics.


At this point, it is impossible to predict whether we are on the brink of an influenza pandemic. The threat is real, however, and governments across the globe are working hard to mitigate the potential impact of swine flu.

This is right and proper. Our government has an obligation to protect the public's health, which it exercised responsibly by declaring a national public health emergency on Sunday. This declaration is the public face of countless actions that federal, state, and local health authorities are now undertaking on our behalf. But these are not the only actions that will be needed. There are also actions that we as citizens must undertake to minimize the swine flu threat that will help us protect ourselves and our families. These actions are not only prudent; they are a matter of moral and civic responsibility. Just as our government has an obligation to protect the public's health, we too have an obligation to our country and to our fellow human beings to do our share to minimize the burdens of this influenza outbreak.

What can each of us do?

Stay informed: New information about swine flu will be generated rapidly in the near term, and possibly longer. DHS Secretary Napolitano has committed to providing daily briefings for the foreseeable future. It is important that we commit to accessing that information, as well as information that may pertain to our local settings, so that we understand what is happening and can take action as needed.

Abide by public health recommendations: As public health officials learn more about the extent and spread of swine flu, new recommendations may be made to limit public gatherings, close schools or workplaces, or restrict or modify travel. These "social distancing" measures should reduce the public health burden of influenza by slowing down the pace by which flu will spread, but they will only work if each of us does our part.

Follow basic hygiene practices: Good hand hygiene is always important, but particularly so in this context. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or with an alcohol-based cleanser. Use a tissue to cover your nose or mouth if you cough or sneeze, and dispose of the tissue properly or, if you don't have a tissue, sneeze into your upper sleeve. Avoid touching your nose or mouth frequently.

Be vigilant and responsible if you or a loved one becomes ill: Contact a healthcare provider if you or a member of your household develops a fever and follow his or her instructions. Keep the person who is ill out of work or school. Unless someone is seriously ill, avoid using emergency rooms to evaluate possible flu symptoms. Even as we monitor this latest threat to public health, people will continue to have medical emergencies like heart attacks and car accidents, and it is important that emergency rooms be able to take care of those who need immediate medical attention.

Prepare for the possibility of staying in your home: One possible social distancing measure that public health authorities could ask us to undertake is to stay at home for a period of time. A basic principle of emergency preparedness is that each of us should have sufficient food and water in our homes to last our families in such an eventuality. Now is the time to make sure that your family is well provisioned, not only to protect yourselves but also out of recognition that some families do not have the money or stable housing required to stockpile food. If those of us who have the means take care of our own needs, it will be easier for the government and community organizations to take care of those who do not.

Check on your neighbors: If you haven't done so already, now is a good time to get to know your neighbors. Find out if any of them may need a little extra help dealing with this public health threat. People who live alone, for example, may appreciate your checking in with them from time to time, and elderly neighbors may need your help stocking up on food. Parents of school age children may want to talk through how they can help each other if schools in your area close but some workplaces stay open.

In his inaugural address, President Obama declared: "What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world." Our individual and collective response to this swine flu outbreak will be one important measure of whether we as Americans and as citizens of the global community are living up to what the President has asked of us.

Hilzoy 11:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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This has been a public service announcement, brought to you by Hilzoy.:)

Posted by: Mr. Stuck on April 28, 2009 at 12:40 AM | PERMALINK

Yep. ;)

Posted by: hilzoy on April 28, 2009 at 1:00 AM | PERMALINK

Thanks for posting this.

I find the last point a little confusing. While I appreciate that neighbors may need help, it seems like encouraging more, new forms of social contact among neighbors could be at odds with "isolation." I guess you can always call or email.

Posted by: JR on April 28, 2009 at 1:55 AM | PERMALINK

WHO raises global alert level on swine flu

It could take 4-6 months before the first batch of vaccines are available to fight the virus, WHO officials said.

Unacceptable lag. The basic science and lab equipment needed to speed this process apparently hasn't been funded. We can make a movie about a bunch of old farts thwarting a asteroid but we can't cut the time to a vaccine by a month...

He said tests show a 4-year-old boy contracted the virus before April 2 in Veracruz state, where a community has been protesting pollution from a large pig farm.

Interesting and Ironic. Wasn't there something in the US stimulus bill about cleaning up pig wastes?

WHO spokesman Peter Cordingley singled out air travel as an easy way the virus could spread, noting that the WHO estimates that up to 500,000 people are on planes at any time.

Half a million humans in the air at any particular time...

President Barack Obama said the outbreak was reason for concern, but not yet "a cause for alarm."

Was he wearing a mask?

Posted by: koreyel on April 28, 2009 at 2:00 AM | PERMALINK

More from an EMT at Making Light. Jim MacDonald has been writing a series of medical posts for a year or two; they're always informative and attract a lot of anecdotal commentary.

Posted by: Linkmeister on April 28, 2009 at 2:02 AM | PERMALINK

oh, yes, there was the swine flu scare during the gerald ford regime. an incident of anti-cuban cbw if i remember it accurately.

this is just another cbw incident, i think. intended to provoke a bank holiday. to shut down the country for the benefit of the neo-stalinists.

i wonder if that 747 over manhattan was dispersing swine flu spores.

Posted by: albertchampion on April 28, 2009 at 2:38 AM | PERMALINK

Swine flu swine influenza virus from an acute respiratory tract caused by infectious diseases, the disease frequently occur in pigs, but rarely led to the death of pigs.

Posted by: air jordan shoes on April 28, 2009 at 2:39 AM | PERMALINK

AlbertChampion is on the right path. Not only is this an Obamaist plot to shut down the government and institute socialism, but it also perpetuates the ridiculous notion that germs cause disease. Every right-thinking person like Albert knows that disease is caused by insufficient levels of faith and prayer. Disease and illness are nothing more than a sign of the Lord's wrath at religious apostasy. Doctors and medicine are unnecessary to those who believe, and preparing for pandemics is the Devil's work. Thank god for people like Susan Collins.

Posted by: bluestatedon on April 28, 2009 at 3:28 AM | PERMALINK

is that each of us should have sufficient food and water in our homes

If the situation gets worse and this recommendation becomes 'official' then there is going to be a run on the stores, and the people there are going to use up all the complementary hand and cart wipes.

What will be the first food stocks to be depleted?

If there is a 2-week scare I don't have the storage means to stock up enough food to last that long much less a taste for non fresh food, so I guess I'll have to go to the grocery store which I guess along with schools and public transport is on of the easiest places to catch the flu.

Posted by: monkeyboy on April 28, 2009 at 7:50 AM | PERMALINK

I'm having a hard time getting worked up about this. I mean shit, doesn't regular flu kill a half-million every year anyway?

I did however find an old miner cabin about 20 miles into the Mojave I could hang out 'til it's over, if necessary...

Stay calm! At least it's not coming to ya via the US Mail.

Posted by: MissMudd on April 28, 2009 at 8:19 AM | PERMALINK

Laying out enough cash for a big food stockpile is going to be a challenge for the poor and unemployed, I expect.

Posted by: foxtrotsky on April 28, 2009 at 9:08 AM | PERMALINK

albertchampion: "...i wonder if that 747 over manhattan was dispersing swine flu spores."

It's been a while since microbiology class, but if memory serves, viruses don't have spores. Bacteria and fungi have spores.

Posted by: Varecia on April 28, 2009 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

Our individual and collective response to this swine flu outbreak will be one important measure of whether we as Americans and as citizens of the global community are living up to what the President has asked of us.

All your swine flu prevention are belong to us.

Posted by: scudbucket on April 28, 2009 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

With all due respect this reminds me of:

The ozone layer is being destroyed by CFC emissions, so be sure to wear sunglasses and sunscreen to protect yourself from the ultraviolet radiation.

The Earth is heating up due to CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, so be sure to seek shade to stay cool.

If there is a global thermonuclear war, we'll all survive just fine if there are enough shovels to go around.

The swine flu is a direct result of industrial animal agriculture. That's what we should be talking about and dealing with. Otherwise, there are going to be more -- and worse -- disease outbreaks just like this.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on April 28, 2009 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK



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