Friday, December 29, 2017

Yes, We Have No Pandemic . . . But Line Up A Flu Buddy Anyway


While we aren't currently embroiled in a novel flu pandemic, over the next 6 to 12 weeks we are likely to see an unusually high burden from influenza. In the months ahead thousands of Americans will likely die, either due to direct effects from influenza, or complications (see Int. Med. J.: Triggering Of Acute M.I. By Respiratory Infection).
While that's the reality every year, this year - with a flu vaccine that is expected to be less effective than usual (see ECDC: H3N2 Flu Vaccine Component Likely `Suboptimal'), and an expected H3N2-centric flu season (which tend to be rougher on the elderly than H1N1 years) -  this year has the potential to be a rough one.
Earlier this week the CDC issued a HAN Advisory stressing the early and aggressive  treatment of severe influenza - particularly for `high-risk' patients - with antivirals.  While flu was already picking up across the nation, holiday travel during the second half of December is likely to act like an accelerant.  
Nearly 1 person in 10 in the United States lives alone.  That’s roughly 27 million people who are particularly vulnerable during an influenza epidemic. Add in single households with small children, or adult children taking care of elderly parents, and the number of `short-handed’ households goes up considerably.  
More than a decade ago, when H5N1 loomed as a pandemic threat,  I began to promote the idea of each of us having, and being a, `Flu Buddy’.  Particularly for those who lack an in-house support system.   

 I fleshed out the idea in a 2008 blog called Lifelines In A Pandemic.
A `Flu Buddy’ is simply someone you can call if you get sick, who will then check on you every day (by phone, social media, or in person), make sure you have the food and medicines you need (including fetching prescriptions if appropriate), help care for you if needed, and who can call for medical help if your condition deteriorates.
Those people who care for others, like single parents, also need to consider who will take care of their dependents if they are sick.
While the current threat is seasonal, not novel flu, it won't make that much difference to you if your beloved Aunt Martha or Uncle George was one of 500,000 who died living alone during a pandemic, or one of 50,000 who succumbed during a particularly bad flu season.

Even if we get lucky - and this year's flu season isn't that bad - think of this as a `dry run' for a pandemic. This is an opportunity to hone your `flu buddy' network connections now, establish a routine, and work out the kinks.
And maybe in the process save a friend, relative, or neighbor's life.
Right now, it also wouldn't be a terrible idea to make sure you have ample hand sanitizer, a box of exam gloves, some surgical or N95 masks, and some basic OTC flu meds, since they may become harder to find as the flu season wears on.

After the 2009 pandemic ended, I reworked the `flu buddy' idea into a more generic `Disaster Buddy’ concept in a 2010 blog called  In An Emergency, Who Has Your Back?. While we tend to think of disasters as large scale events, it doesn’t require a pandemic, earthquake, or hurricane to put you in perilous straits.
A house fire, car accident, sudden illness, or some other more limited emergency can overwhelm as well, and having a preexisting support system makes a lot of sense.
Earlier this year, when I had to evacuate due to Hurricane Irma, I found myself very glad to have a small network of disaster buddies of my own to rely on.
And they of course know, it is reciprocal.
While some people invest in a stockpile of freeze dried food, or buy the latest survival  gadgets, and think themselves prepared   . . .  I can assure you that having people  you can really depend on in an emergency is the greatest prep of all. 

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