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Avian Flu: 10 Questions, 10 Answers

What You Can Do; What the Government Is Doing

3. What can I do about bird flu? continued...

Those caring for sick people during a flu pandemic should wear a facemask, according to WHO and CDC recommendations.

The best way to limit the spread of flu isn't a facemask. It's following these simple hygiene rules:

  • Wash your hands often using soap and water. You can also use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • When you cough or sneeze, use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose. Discard used tissues in a wastebasket.
  • Don't have a tissue? Cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve.
  • Clean your hands after coughing or sneezing. Use soap and water or an alcohol hand sanitizer.
  • Stay at home if you are sick.

Even if you get sick during a flu pandemic, you're less likely to get severely ill if you're healthy. If you're worried about getting the flu:

  • Eat a balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products.
  • Drink a lot of water. If you drink alcohol, be moderate.
  • Regular exercise is essential for good health.
  • Get a full night's sleep every night.

4. What can the government do about bird flu?

The U.S. has a pandemic flupreparedness plan. This includes plans for deciding which people most urgently need scarce hospital beds and medicines, deploying response teams, increasing hospital capacity, and, when necessary, enforcing patient isolation and quarantine.

The government will try to delay the arrival of a flu pandemic by isolating ill travelers arriving from affected areas. This is not expected to prevent a pandemic from sweeping the country.

In the event of a flu pandemic, the first thing that will happen is that schools will close. Public gatherings will be discouraged or forbidden. People will be urged to work from home.

It's expected that about 40% of children and 20% of working adults will get the flu during a pandemic. Overall, about a third of the population is expected to get ill. At least half of infected people are expected to seek medical care.

The government is stockpiling antiviral medicines. How large this stockpile will be depends on how soon a pandemic hits. Eventually, the U.S. hopes to stockpile enough flu drugs to treat 25% of the U.S. population.

The government will deploy its stockpiled bird-flu vaccine, but it's not clear this will be effective. A truly effective vaccine should start to appear about six months after the pandemic begins. It will take two vaccinations, weeks apart, for a person to become protected.

Vaccines will be distributed to people in order of priority, in two tiers, with group A having the highest priority in each tier. This list, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, does not include the 1.5 million members of the military considered essential to ongoing operations and military medicine.

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