Health officials are concerned about the possibility of a surge in swine flu cases appearing soon after students return to school this fall.
The symptoms of H1N1 infection, called swine flu, include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache and, sometimes, vomiting and diarrhea.
To help prevent an epidemic of this illness, we must all do our part. If you become sick with these symptoms, you will probably be ill for at least one week. You should stay at home and avoid close contact with others as much as possible.
Avoid most of your usual activities, such as school, work, shopping, social events and public gatherings. Do not resume any of these activities until at least 24 hours after your fever is gone. This period of isolation is of utmost importance to help prevent the spread of swine flu.
Schools will send sick students home. When an ill child is identified, there may be isolation rooms where students will wait until they can be picked up and taken home.
At all times during your illness, you need to cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 15 to 20 seconds, or use one of the many available alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
Avoid face-to-face contact with others by keeping a distance of at least 3 or 4 feet between you. If you have to leave home to seek medical care or for some other necessity, wear a mask.
In case of a severe swine flu epidemic, many of us may need to be confined to our homes for a period of time. I recommended having the following supplies on hand to get through a period of home confinement:
- A one- to two-week supply of food and water.
- Medication for treating fever, aches and pains, such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil (ibuprofen).
- Cough medication, such as Robitussin DM, Vicks 44 or honey/menthol lozenges.
- Throat lozenges, such as Sucrets Complete (with dyclonine and menthol).
- Electrolyte drinks, such as Gatorade or Powerade.
- Alcohol-based hand sanitizer, such as Purell.
- Surgical masks, obtainable from most pharmacies.
In the event of a major swine flu epidemic, being able to see a doctor and receiving treatment may be difficult. That is why I recommend the above list of supplies and home remedies.
No one knows how the swine flu season will unfold. I hope it will be no worse than any other flu year. But we have to be prepared, just in case.
Terry Hollenbeck, M.D., is an urgent-care physician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Santa Cruz in Scotts Valley. Information in this column is not intended to replace advice from your own health care professional. For any medical concern, consult your own doctor.