Information from the Minnesota State Council on Disabilities and Access Press staff
Having a disability alone may not place some at higher risk for complications from the Novel H1N1 Influenza (flu). People at high risk for complications from influenza (including seasonal and Novel H1N1 influenza) are children under 5 years of age (especially those under age 2), people with underlying medical conditions (such as heart, pulmonary or kidney disease, asthma, diabetes, neurological or neuromuscular disorders, or a suppressed immune system), pregnant women, and people over age 65.
But all people with or without a disability need to think about their own health situation and how to reduce the spread of HINI by following the guidelines; the guidelines are the same for the general population, though they add some planning considerations for persons with disabilities.
Do all you can to prevent the spread of different types of flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the main way that all influenza viruses spread is from person to person in respiratory droplets of coughs and sneezes. This can happen when droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person are propelled through the air and deposited on the mouth or nose of people nearby. Influenza viruses may also be spread when a person touches respiratory droplets on another person or an object and then touches their own mouth or nose (or someone else’s mouth or nose) before washing their hands.
Practice good respiratory and hand hygiene, clean your hands often, with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub. Soap and water will need to be used if your hands are soiled with food, grease, dirt or other substances. Because many bathroom facilities aren’t accessible to individuals with physical disabilities and soap dispensers are typically located out of reach for typical wheelchair/scooter users, be sure to carry and use alcohol-based hand sanitizer or other waterless hand sanitizer.
Remember, you should wash with soap and water if your hands are soiled if possible because alcohol-based hand sanitizers won’t work under these conditions.
Because germs can live so long on surfaces, it is recommended to carry and use alcohol-based hand sanitizers after touching surfaces-especially after reading Braille and tactile signage.
Avoid sharing personal items. That includes items like drinks, food, or eating utensils.
Since H1N1 is spread by coughing and sneezing, cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue-or your elbow if you are able. Hands should not be used to cover a cough or sneeze. If you are coughing and sneezing and are not able to cover your coughs/sneezes, please consider staying home until you are no longer coughing and sneezing.
Stay home if you have flu symptoms. That means a fever of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or greater, with cough and/or a sore throat. Stay home for 24 hours after your fever is gone without the use of medicines that reduce fever like Tylenol or Motrin. Other symptoms that may occur with influenza include runny nose, headache, body aches, and, sometimes with Novel H1N1 influenza, vomiting and diarrhea. Stay home for 24 hours after your fever is gone even if even if you are on antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu (oseltamivir) or have had a flu test that is negative. Flu tests are not always accurate.
Contact your clinic BEFORE you make an in-person visit to a medical facility. It’s important not to spread the flu, so call first and discuss your need to be seen in a clinic setting. If life-threatening conditions exist, contact 911 immediately.
Get a seasonal flu vaccine as soon as possible. (See related story.) In addition, get a vaccination for Novel H1N1 influenza when available. The vaccine is likely to be available in late September or October. Initial target groups for H1N1 vaccination are pregnant women, people who live with or care for children younger than 6 months of age, people age 6 months to 24 years, people 25 through 64 years of age with chronic health disorders or weakened immune systems and health care providers. It is likely that two doses of H1N1 vaccine will be needed, given several weeks apart.
What if you are at high risk for flu complications? You need to plan to take additional precautions. Individuals at high risk include persons with chronic health problems like asthma, diabetes, heart or lung disease, metabolic conditions, and neurological and neuromuscular disorders. If you are not sure whether you are at higher risk, check with a doctor. If you are at high risk, talk to your doctor to develop a plan that meets your individual health needs. Contact your doctor immediately if you develop influenza symptoms. If you need antiviral drugs, they should be started within two days of symptoms for the best response. Contact your doctor to see whether antiviral drugs are needed if you have had close contact with others who have influenza symptoms. If someone else in your household is at high risk for complications from influenza, their doctor should be consulted to discuss a plan for what to do if they have close contact with someone with influenza symptoms or develop influenza symptoms.
Planning ahead for a pandemic
A pandemic or widespread outbreak of flu is something that everyone should prepare for. Know your personal abilities and needs. Prepare as individuals and as a community to be ready for a flu pandemic. Start getting ready NOW, before any outbreak happens. That means knowing what to expect, and making plans to “ride out” a pandemic.
There are many things you and your family can do now to prepare. The first is to stay healthy. Keep yourself in shape. Eat nutritious foods, don’t smoke, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep. Get a flu shot every fall, so you’re protected against ordinary “seasonal” flu.
Develop a family emergency stay-at-home plan. Know how you’ll reach family members, care givers, and neighbors. Keep a list of emergency phone numbers in a handy place. Store emergency numbers in your cell phone under “ICE” (“In Case of Emergency”), so someone else can call your emergency numbers if you are not able to use your phone. List more than one person, (“ICE 1”, “ICE 2”, etc.)
Get emergency supplies together. Make sure you have everything you’ll need to get by if you have to remain at home for a period of time, up to two weeks, if possible. Essential items include: a supply of drinking water (one gallon per person per day), a supply of nonperishable food, a supply of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, medical supplies, and a standard first aid kit. Have a box or tub of basic equipment including a flashlight, battery-operated radio, supply of batteries and a manual can opener. Stock up on personal care products: soap, toiletries, waterless hand cleaner, extra glasses or contact lenses, tissues and toilet paper, and any special items for infants or people with special health needs. Make sure you have adequate kitchen utensils and dishwashing supplies, as well as extra clothing and bedding. Other needs include a notebook and pen, whistle to attract attention, money and credit cards, extra car keys, medical and insurance information and copies of other important documents. Plan ahead to stay active if you cannot get out, with extra reading materials, DVDs and other items to stay entertained.
Prepare your community
Find out what your own community is doing to prepare for the pandemic, public health and emergency response agencies, schools, businesses, voluntary agencies and organizations. Workplaces, organizations, places of worship and community gathering places are also making contingency plans. Schools and the business community have an especially important role. Make sure you are aware of plans for places you frequent.
Now is the time to talk with your neighbors and find out what you can do to look out for each other during a pandemic. Pool resources to be better prepared. Identify the support systems you will rely on during an emergency, churches and faith communities, social or fraternal organizations, voluntary groups and organizations, etc. Figure out how you’ll keep up on the latest information during an emergency, TV, radio, phone contact, internet, posting of information in public locations, etc. Allow for the fact that some communication systems may be down temporarily.
Find out where you fit in and how you can help.
Cities and counties are making plans to put in place and some local units of government will be setting up flu hotlines. If you’re not sure where to call, check with Minnesota Department of Health. The Twin Cities area phone number is 651-201-5000. For Greater Minnesota call 1-888-345-0823. The TTY number is 651-201-5797.
For an emergency preparedness guide for people with disabilities contact MSCOD at 651-361-7800 (v/tty) or 1-800-945-8913 (v/tty) or www.dis ability.state.mn.us
Another resource is www. disabilitypreparedness.gov/
Information about H1N1 can be found at: www.health. state.mn.us/divs/idepc/diseases/flu/h1n1/index.html