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Meeting's response to flu season (H1N1 and the annual flu)

The Ministry and Oversight Committee met yesterday with Dr. Alan Rogers and discussed what steps the Meeting should take to respond to the flu season.  Alan provides the following advice and suggestions:

    I think this site would be worth sharing with others in Meeting: Interim CDC Guidance for Public Gatherings in Response to Human Infections with Novel Influenza A (H1N1) - <http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/guidance/public_gatherings.htm>

    I'm somewhat fatalistic, as I think a true epidemic is difficult to avoid. I think the only sure way to decrease the risk of infection is to avoid other people. Flu is transmitted from person to person, either directly or through "fomites", inanimate objects upon which germs are deposited and then are handled by others who pick up the germs.

    What are the goals of Meeting and members of Meeting? If we intend to not be a place where people can acquire flu, either the usual "seasonal flu" or the H1N1, then we ought to not meet. But then again, if we are out and about town, we will likely encounter others with either seasonal flu or H1N1. So I might propose that as a Meeting we adopt as a goal that we attempt to decrease the risk of anyone acquiring flu while at Meeting for worship or any of the activities that we do as members or attenders of Friends Meeting. This seems do-able and perhaps we can not only decrease the risk of anyone acquiring flu at Meeting, but also decrease the risk of anyone acquiring flu at all.

    Currently in NM, 97% of the flu that is circulating is H1N1, not "seasonal flu". The flu shot that is currently available is for "seasonal flu." The H1N1 flu shot is not yet available but will be this month or next.

    Most current cases of H1N1 are not life-threatening for most people.

    The current advice is to not seek medical care unless a person is severely ill. Routine testing for flu is not being recommended. Routine treatment for flu is not being advised unless a person is in close contact with someone who is at high risk of complications should they get the H1N1 flu. Routine "prophylaxis" is not being advised for persons who have been exposed to someone with confirmed or suspected H1N1.

    Nonetheless, I would recommend that all members of Meeting, and attenders as well, get the "seasonal flu" shot sometime in October. Places to get this shot include physicians offices, pharmacies, possibly County Health and the St. Vincent Flu shot Clinic on 10/24 from 8 AM to 2 PM. Free and efficiently run. The St. Vincent Peds Clinics will have shot clinics for kids as well.

    When the H1N1 vaccine becomes available; children, young adults, people with chronic health problems AND THOSE WHO CARE FOR THEM should get immunized. As I understand it the initial doses will be the nasal inhalant variety and are not for the very young or those over 50 or with chronic health issues. Those folks will need the injectable doses that will be available a bit later, perhaps towards the end of October. It is unclear where and when these doses will be available as the Feds own all the vaccine. I suspect they will release it to the states and the states will distribute it through their channels. So people ought to keep their ears open to the news and I can pass info along as I hear about it if that would be helpful.

    A thought for Meeting; there are clearly people who are at Meeting who are at higher risk of complications if they were to "get" H1N1. Even if we individually are not at higher risk, if we were to get H1N1 and pass it on to others in Meeting who are at higher risk, they might have severe complications, even if they are relatively healthy. Those of us who are older have likely encountered a flu virus similar to this H1N1 in the past and are less likely to get very sick if we contract it. Those of us who are younger, especially kids and young adults, have immune systems that have not encountered this sort of virus before and are more likely to get sicker. Those of us who have chronic health problems like Diabetes, chronic lung problems or heart disease are more likely to have complications if we develop H1N1.

   So one of the kindest things we can do for others, even if we are confident that we will weather this fine as individuals, would be to get immunized against both forms of flu as the immunizations become available. If we don't get H1N1 illness ourselves, then we can't pass it along. So please get the immunization. We have quite a few young, and older, Friends amongst us.

    There clearly are groups that are at higher risk than others. Those are:
        Children younger than age 5
        Persons with certain chronic medical conditions (essentially listed above as well as anyone with immune suppression or undergoing chemotherapy or immune suppression)
        Persons 65 or older
        Pregnant women

    What to do if someone is ill with a "flu-like" illness, even if it has not been officially diagnosed as the flu or the H1N1 flu? Well, first of all, use common sense. If needed, ask for advice from your health care provider/physician. If you're really sick, seek care. If you're "soft sick" (able to eat/drink and care for yourself and not short of breath) then stay at home, drink lots of fluids, rest, take meds/(or whatever you prefer) to lower fever, decrease achiness, for cough, sore throat. If you have a flu like illness (fever/chills/ muscles and joint aches/ sore throat/cough/possibly intestinal symptoms) stay away from those at risk until well. As far as Meeting, that would mean 7 days from symptom onset or until the resolution of symptoms, whichever is longer. So let this guide you as far as coming to Meeting if you are, or have been, ill.

    Alcohol based hand sanitizers? Not proven, but better than nothing. I wipe inanimate surfaces with alcohol all the time at work to decrease the possibility of passing something along. It makes sense with hands as well, but there is no scientific evidence to back this up. Wash your hands, often and well (20-30 seconds with warm, soapy water).

    Should we stop ending Meeting with a handshake? I would leave that to Meeting as a group to decide. Hand to hand contact (preceded and/or followed by touching our noses, eyes or mouths) is how we infect each other. Some people abide by the 5 second rule and others are most fastidious about personal hygiene. I suspect that if we defer to the latter group, with some changes in practice, we'll likely be less at risk for any type of flu this season.

Alan Rogers (wearing my MD hat)

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Ministry and Oversight agreed to mention when breaking Meeting for Worship that anyone who doesn't feel easy shaking hands should feel no obligation to do so.

If you have concerns or suggestions regarding flu season, contact Philip Balcombe, Clerk of M&O, or Bob Gaines, Clerk of Meeting.  This message is also posted at http://sf.imym.org/ (no password required).

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