The White House splashed news about an advisory panel report predicting 90,000 would die from the swine flu this fall. Today, the press is reporting that the US government’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) thinks that estimate could be way too high. Americans should take the upcoming flu season seriously. They should definitely not panic….but they should prepare. Here are the facts.

About 30,000 people die from medical complications after the flu every year. We live in a country of 300 million so while the odds are with you, you should still take the flu seriously. When individuals don’t get the flu or take appropriate actions if they do get sick, they help keep it from spreading and that helps all of us.

More people will likely get sick this flu season and more than usual may go to the hospital…and some more may die. That is because the swine flu (H1N1) could prove more contagious than regular seasonal flues and some populations that are not normally susceptible to getting very sick (such as young adults) may get sick more often and sicker than usual. Here is what we as Americans need to do:

By most estimates, H1N1 vaccines will not be generally available until October, well after the US flu season is underway. Americans will need to listen and follow vaccination guidance. The most critical elements of a national strategy are not that every individual has to be vaccinated, but that a sufficient percentage of the population is vaccinated to prevent recurring pandemic. In addition, as many individuals in high-risk categories as possible should be vaccinated. Individuals should also seek to get seasonal flu vaccines. Even though the seasonal flu vaccine will not prevent H1N1, or even protect individuals against every strain of seasonal flu that might appear this fall, it will reduce the burden on medical providers and losses in productivity due to illness.

Without vaccines the single greatest contribution the public can make is limiting their opportunities to get the disease. Here public officials have distributed ample guidelines on preventative measures to take. Preventative measures mirror those for seasonal flu. They include practices such as:

  • Washing hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water and avoid touching mouth, noses, and eyes with unwashed hands or after touching surfaces.
  • Not sharing water bottles and drinking containers.
  • Avoiding people who are sick and exposure to coughing and sneezing.
  • Individuals who are sick should cough or sneeze into their sleeve. They should stay at home if they are sick.
  • Seek medical attention when appropriate.

Individuals, families, businesses, and community groups can help mitigate the effects of the flu season. Their plans should primarily focus on contingencies if individuals have to stay home from school or work or if key personnel are not available for several days. The best and effective responses will likely be locally developed and implemented. The greater the scope and severity of the pandemic, the more individuals in communities will have to rely on each other. Likely as not many of the resources they will need to sustain their communities will be locally available as well.