Pandemic flu plans aren’t just for governments: Families need them too, says Ted Epperly, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians and a family doc in Boise, Idaho. And parents need to prepare now. Here are eight things families should do to get ready for swine flu, according to Epperly:
- Stockpile food and medical supplies. Two weeks of food, common cold medicines such as ibuprofen, and tissues would be a good place to start, Epperly says. The idea is to be self-sufficient if schools and businesses are closed or if you want to stay home and avoid the risk of being exposed to flu in public places. Here’s the pandemicflu.gov family pandemic planning checklist.
- Plan for school closures. Decide what the family will do if schools or day-care centers are closed, as they are in several states.
- Wash hands often, and use alcohol hand sanitizers to reduce the spread of germs. Clean home surfaces with Lysol or another disinfectant to reduce transmission.
- Face masks should be worn by a sick family member or by someone taking care of a sick person. “There’s no evidence that they’re of value out in the community,” Epperly says. In other words, no need to wear a mask on the bus, as people are doing in Mexico.
- Stockpiling antiviral medication won’t be necessary unless the pandemic gets a lot worse, Epperly says. Relenza, one antiviral that works against swine flu, isn’t approved for children under age 7, he says. That means Tamiflu, a prescription drug, is the only choice for young children. It doesn’t prevent flu, and it needs to be taken in the first 48 hours after symptoms start to be effective.
- Follow the news closely to know what’s happening with swine flu nationally and in your community. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s CDC swine flu page is tracking the outbreak closely. Check with your local health department and school district to see if you can sign up for E-mail alerts. (You can follow CDC’s Twitter feed, too.)
- Stay home if you are sick. “People shouldn’t be going outside if they’ve got the flu,” Epperly says. This means a fever over 100 degrees, muscle aches, and in some cases, vomiting or diarrhea.
- Sick family members should be cared for in a separate room with good ventilation–windows open if possible, Epperly says. They should get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids. The CDC has new advice on caring for children with swine flu.
Most people are going to recover just fine from influenza, Epperly notes, even a swine flu. But with regular seasonal flu, too, more than 20,000 children under age 5 are hospitalized each year with complications. In last winter’s flu season, 86 children died of complications of the regular flu, according to the CDC. The uncertainty over what’s going to happen with this new virus has parents, doctors, and public-health officials justifiably worried.
“Hope for the best, and plan for the worst” is the way to go, Epperly says. “Hopefully, this won’t take off.”