Monday, May 4, 2009

When Pigs Fly: Dealing with the Swine Flu Jitters

Remember the old adage, "that'll happen when pigs fly"? Well, the swine flu is floating around.... Does that count?

If so, we have nothing to worry about with the swine flu; it's merely a symptom. The real things you need to worry about are all of the "that''ll never happen" things that are about to come true. Like Carrot Top winning a Nobel Prize or the Rams winning the Superbowl, or a black man being elected president. Oh wait, that's already happened and I voted for him. See? It's already started. What will happen next? Will Angelina stop adopting kids?

I think it's time to put the swine flu epidemic in perspective. According to a recent WebMD article: In a typical U.S. flu season, an average of 36,000 people die of flu or flu complications, and about 200,000 people are hospitalized.

Swine flu hasn't come anywhere close to that. Swine flu has sickened at least 141 people in the U.S. and 365 people worldwide, according to the CDC and World Health Organization's tally of lab-confirmed swine flu cases as of Friday, May 1.

Here in Arkansas at UAMS there has been such a run on Tamiflu prescriptions, an anti-viral medication, that all physicians have been requested to think very carefully before giving in to patient hysteria when prescribing this medication. Predictions are that much of the Tamiflu prescribed will never be taken, but it is removing significant numbers from pharmacy shelves which may be detrimental in the future should we need it. So far, there are no reported cases in Arkansas.

So how do you stay informed without letting the hysteria take over your life?

Adopt Rational Measures

· Hand washing. Mom always said, “Wash your hands” because she knew it prevents more illness than any other single proactive thing you can do to keep yourself healthy. But we don’t want to tip the scales into obsessive compulsive behavior. Wash your hands as needed relative to your situation and exposure. If you have minimal contact with others at work, you are not at as great a risk as someone in the health, school, nursing home or daycare industry.

· Cover your mouth. Another gem from Mom. It is common courtesy to cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing, then go back to the first example given here and wash your hands.

· Avoid sick people when you can. You can’t avoid your sick husband or two year old, but if someone is hacking up a lung in isle three, use isle seven to get to the milk.

· Go home if you’re sick. Don’t expose everyone else in the office just because you have to update your spreadsheet. It is much more cost effective for you to miss a day than the entire office.

Restrict Media Exposure

· A little bit can go a long way. The best way to scare yourself about anything is to become an expert on the subject. Too much information can generate its own anxiety. Only read what you need and leave the technical stuff to the experts who get paid to worry.

· Be a good role model for your children and grandchildren. Your role is to take care of them and make their world a safe and secure place. So if they see you watching CNN all day long willing to drop everything when they announce an update, children will take that fear you are demonstrating and multiply it out of orbit. Do not transfer your fear into your child’s anxiety. Unless you like staying up with a four year old too afraid to go to sleep because the swine flu might get them.

The bottom line is stay informed, but stay sane in how you go about it. Keep your update watching in moderation and take normal precautions with the health of yourself and your family. Yes, moderation works for swine flu fear too.

And since we are in Arkansas and our favorite football team is the Razorbacks, I’d like to add that the only swine you should fear is on the football field, “GO HOGS!”

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