We keep hearing about how `mild’ this new H1N1 virus is, and for some people, no doubt the illness runs its course without serious incident.
For others, we are hearing that it packs a wallop, even for those who don’t end up being hospitalized. Worse, there are already a couple of deaths, and several dozen hospitalized in the United States, from this `mild’ virus.
Influenza is not a `trivial’ illness. And `mild’ is a relative term.
Putting pandemics aside for a moment, even seasonal influenza puts 200,000 Americans in the hospital, and contributes to the deaths of 36,000 each year.
In an average year, 100 pediatric deaths are attributed to the influenza virus.
Most years, Americans run less than 1 chance in 10 of catching influenza.
If you get hit nearly every year with a `flu-like illness’, the odds are that some of those times you were hit by one of the many other respiratory illnesses that circulate each year.
These respiratory viruses, which include parainfluenza, respiratory syncytial virus, metapneumovirus, and adenovirus are responsible for a wide spectrum of illnesses.
Some severe, some less so.
When a novel influenza virus appears, such as the A/H1N1 we are now closely watching, it can affect 25%-35% of the population, or about 3 to 4 times more than are normally affected in a regular flu season.
Even a virus that produces `mild’ symptoms - at that kind of attack rate - could put hundreds of thousands at great risk of serious illness or death in the United States, along with millions more from around the world.
According to the census bureau, 27 million Americans live alone. Millions more live in households where they are the sole capable adult, either as single parents or as a caretaker of another adult.
These people, who may have no one to care for them if they fall ill, are particularly at risk.
In 2007 I experienced just this dilemma, when I was suddenly struck by an influenza-like-illness that knocked me for a loop. I learned a big lesson that day, one that I share with you again:
If you live alone, or with someone who isn't likely to be a good caregiver, put a `flu box' under your bed, an arm's reach away.
When I was hit by the flu I desperately wished I had some basic meds and some sports drinks at hand. I could have saved myself considerable misery over those first 36 hours had I planned ahead.
Having a telephone next to the bed, isn't just a convenience, it could be lifesaving.
Singles should make arrangements with neighbors or friends who can check in on them, tend to them, and who can call for assistance if needed.
And finally, if you do get sick. STAY HOME!
Don't share your illness with co-workers or friends, or the guy who rides the subway to work next to you.
Influenza exacts a terrible toll, both to the economy, and in terms of morbidity and mortality each year.
Don't add to the misery.