The message from just about every public health agency, including the CDC, has been that if you are sick; STAY HOME!
And that, as you might imagine, can present a problem for people who are suddenly stricken with the influenza virus and are in need of food, medicine, or other supplies while they are in home `isolation’.
If you live alone, or are the only responsible adult in a household, how do you get prescription medications if you can’t leave the house?
Even if you feel well enough to go out to the drug or grocery store, you risk infecting others.
The answer is one that I’ve been promoting for 2 1/2 years.
You make arrangements with at least one friend who will be your `flu buddy’ (see Pandemic Solutions: Flu Buddies), or as they are calling it in the UK, your `Flu Friend’.
Health chiefs in Cumbria are urging people to identify a "flu friend" to collect medication or supplies for them if they contract swine flu.
It follows confirmation on 1 July of the first case in the county, and the announcement of a change in the way the virus is being tackled in the UK.
Once diagnosed by a GP, a voucher for antiviral treatment will be provided for patients from vulnerable groups.
Medication collection points have already been set up by NHS Cumbria.
Dr Nigel Calvert, associate director of public health at NHS Cumbria, said: "We have detailed plans in place to help the NHS in Cumbria cope with any increase in cases.
"The key message to people is to be prepared and make sure they have a friend or relative who can act as their flu friend and collect medicines, food and other supplies if they become unwell."
Considering the number of people who live alone (27 million in the U.S.), and the millions more who are the sole adult caregiver in a household, the need for having `Flu Friends’ or `buddies’ becomes readily apparent.
Not only do these people need someone who can fetch medicine for them, they need someone who can monitor their condition, call for help if needed, and see to their immediate needs.
And in the case of a single parent, to see to the needs of their children.
It is all too easy for someone to become dehydrated and even delirious, from influenza. Without intervention, what could have been a mild or moderate illness can progress into something more serious. Even life threatening.
And if a single parent is hit by the flu, their children are at risk too. And not just from the flu, but from not having someone looking after them.
It doesn’t take a nurse or a health care professional to be a flu buddy. All it takes is the willingness to help.
I am a `flu buddy’ to at least 4 people, plus most of my neighbors are aware that they can call on me if they need help. While not all of these people can reciprocate – I’ve got at least a couple of people who will act as my `flu buddy’ should I get sick.
For someone who lives alone, that is a pretty good insurance policy.
Now I understand that there are some people who are genuinely afraid of this pandemic, and wouldn’t want to risk exposure to this virus. To them, the idea of volunteering to go into a neighbor’s house when they are sick may seem counterintuitive.
And, if they are pregnant, or have serious risk factors such as asthma, diabetes, or COPD . . . or simply aren’t good dealing with sick people . . . they legitimately might want to consider a more limited role as a flu buddy.
Picking up and delivering medicines (and maybe some chicken soup) along with a once or twice daily telephone call to check on a sick friend would go a long ways towards helping, without endangering their own health.
Not every flu buddy needs to be a Florence Nightingale.
Over the next 8 to 12 months, hundreds of millions of people are likely to be stricken by this virus. Most will recover, but many will desperately need the help of friends, relatives, or neighbors to get through this.
And so, while it is important to have a flu buddy, it is more important to be a flu buddy.
And to be one to more than one person, if possible.
A pandemic is truly a scary event. We need to respect this virus, and take reasonable steps to protect ourselves from it. But we mustn’t allow our fear of it to prevent us from taking care of our friends, our relatives, and our neighbors.
Else we risk allowing this crisis become something much worse than it ever needs to be.