How to avoid the H1N1 while vacationing it its hotspots?
November 20, 2009 12:09 PM   Subscribe

How can I make sure I don't get H1N1 for Christmas?

I live in a (underdeveloped) country where only 1 case of H1N1 has been reported. It was reported about 2 weeks ago. I've learned Tamiflu is (allegedly) available here, but there is no talk of vaccine.

I'm going to Canada for Christmas/New Year.

I'm concerned that the H1N1 is going to spoil my vacation; it seems so many people I know either have it now or have had it recently.

Can I get some kind of vaccination upon arrival? Is that a good plan?

Looking for advice.
posted by pick_the_flowers to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Wash your hands. all the time. if you touch someone else, wash your hands. don't touch your face, but if you do, wash your hands. It is by far, without comparison, the most effective strategy to protect yourself against the flu. Do it right: 30 seconds, get under the nails, there is no advantage to antibacterial soap.

As for getting the vaccine in Canada, with no actual knowledge of it, I would guess that would depend on the availability come December and whether you have some sort of Canadian insurance.
posted by brainmouse at 12:15 PM on November 20, 2009

Well, if you have a health condition that predisposes you to serious complications from influenza, there's an argument for taking Tamiflu prophylactically. I'm not sure what the rules are on that in the US, and they are probably different where you're coming from.

But if you aren't at any special risk, just do your best to follow the usual hygiene precautions (don't touch eyes/nose/mouth when you've been touching public surfaces, stay away from crowds when possible). You can get vaccinated on arrival but won't be fully protected for at least a week, maybe two, while your immune response builds.

The good news is that it seems to have passed its peak, at least temporarily and in parts of the US, so you may be better off now than if you'd been visiting for Halloween.
posted by lakeroon at 12:19 PM on November 20, 2009

I work in an office where a few people have gotten it, but it hasn't really spread as much as I imagined it would. The Center for Disease Control lists prevention methods:
* Wash hands frequently with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub*
* Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
* Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
* People who are sick with an influenza-like illness (ILI) (fever plus at least cough or sore throat and possibly other symptoms like runny nose, body aches, headaches, chills, fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea) should stay home and keep away from others as much as possible, including avoiding travel, for at least 24 hours after fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Fever should be gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine).
* Avoid close contact (i.e. being within about 6 feet) with persons with ILI.
Otherwise, CDC provides information on that page about face masks and respirators, if you're staying with someone who has H1N1 and you are really worried about catching it.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:20 PM on November 20, 2009

I don't know about Canada but in the US there aren't too many vaccines available and they're generally being reserved for health care workers or at-risk patients.

Wash your hands, use hand sanitizer, don't rub your eyes if you can avoid it, avoid being sneezed on. You know, the usual.

I had it and I got it while I was taking Tamiflu. The good news is for most people it isn't too bad.
posted by bondcliff at 12:21 PM on November 20, 2009

On re-reading it sounds like I didn't realize you are going to Canada. I just don't know what the situation is there so much. Re: insurance, here it's all been bought by the feds, so you just have to pay the administration costs of whoever's dispensing it, and sometimes this is covered by insurance, but it shouldn't be more than $10-20 anyway, and may be free in some situations. Again, maybe different north of the border.
posted by lakeroon at 12:22 PM on November 20, 2009

Last week my three children came down what we think was swine flu. We took them to the doctor - they did not get tested, but all signs, according to the doctor, pointed to flu. She also said that if it's the flu, then it's probably swine flu. For us, there really was no reason to test for swine flu. I just mention this because it was not confirmed that it was actually swine flu.

Our kids were miserable for a week and missed a week of school. High fevers - 104, for about 3 days, sore sore throat, chest congestion and tons of coughing, some vomiting, diarrhea - really a little bit of everything.

They're better now . . . just a little residual coughing, especially at night.

I, their mother, throughout this week of flu hell was coughed on, sneezed on, thrown up on, breathed on, spit on and I got to change some diarrhea diapers. GO ME!

And I never came down with the flu.

As soon as they started getting sick I went out and got a big old thing of hand-sanitizer. I was totally OCD with that stuff. I was using it ALL THE TIME. I was especially careful to keep my hands away from my face as well. In addition, I was using a saline nasal spray - just some generic stuff with a few drops of grapefruit seed extract added (don't know if that even mattered) and I was using the saline spray MULTIPLE times a day to flush whatever was in there. I'm sure a neti pot would work as well. I found the saline spray much easier and convenient to use however.

I was given this email from a nurse regarding some things you can do to help prevent getting H1N1:

H1N1 flu advice=
> The only portals of entry are the nostrils and mouth/throat. In a
> global epidemic of this nature, it's almost impossible to avoid coming
> into contact with H1N1 in spite of all precautions. Contact with H1N1 is
> not so much of a problem as proliferation is.
> While you are still healthy and not showing any symptoms of H1N1
> infection, in order to prevent proliferation, aggravation of symptoms
> and development of secondary infections, some very simple steps, not
> fully highlighted in most official communications, can be practiced
> (instead of focusing on how to stock N95 or Tamiflu):
> 1. Frequent hand-washing (well highlighted in all official
> communications).
> 2. "Hands-off-the-face" approach. Resist all temptations to touch any
> part of face (unless you want to eat, bathe or slap).
> 3. *Gargle twice a day with warm salt water (use Listerine if you
> don't trust salt). *H1N1 takes 2-3 days after initial infection in the
> throat/nasal cavity to proliferate and show characteristic symptoms.
> Simple gargling prevents proliferation. In a way, gargling with salt
> water has the same effect on a healthy individual that Tamiflu has on an
> infected one. Don't underestimate this simple, inexpensive and powerful
> preventative method.
> 4. Similar to 3 above, *clean your nostrils at least once every day
> with warm salt water. *Not everybody may be good at Jala Neti or Sutra
> Neti (very good Yoga asanas to clean nasal cavities), but *blowing the
> nose once a day and swabbing both nostrils with cotton buds dipped
> in warm salt water is very effective in bringing down viral population.*
> 5. *Boost your natural immunity with foods that are rich in Vitamin C
> (Amla and other citrus fruits). *If you have to supplement with Vitamin
> C tablets, make sure that it also has Zinc to boost absorption -- be careful & don't
> take too much zinc per day -- there can be side effects\
> 6. *Drink as much of warm liquids (tea, coffee, etc) as you can.
> *Drinking warm liquids has the same effect as gargling, but in the
> reverse direction. They wash off proliferating viruses from the throat
> into the stomach where they cannot survive, proliferate or do any harm.

I don't know about the vaccine, however.
posted by Sassyfras at 12:25 PM on November 20, 2009 [6 favorites]

Take Vitamin D supplements. 10k -20k IU dosage should do it.
posted by torquemaniac at 12:29 PM on November 20, 2009

Just so you know, today is the first day ALL Canadians are eligible to get the vaccine. Just wait your turn in line at an open flu clinic, or make an appointment with a doctor. Drop in medical clinics might or might not have any available, I'd call ahead and ask.

I don't know if they check for Care Cards though (which are proof you're a Canadian eligible for all our medical goodness.) Drop in medical clinics and the doctors office most definitely will. I'm not sure about the dedicated flu clinics, I haven't gone yet. I plan to this weekend.
posted by cgg at 12:31 PM on November 20, 2009

Oh, I take that back -- the shot might only be available for those in BC; I'm not sure about the other provinces. But it most surely will be available country wide by Christmas.
posted by cgg at 12:35 PM on November 20, 2009

While there is a priority list, honestly, with the line I was in, there was no priority because they couldn't check validity. Children, pregnant women, compromised immune systems/history of respiratory illness.

And zero med charts. So you could be 20s-50s with "compromised immune system" and get the spray/injection and no one was the wiser. With a 6 hour line, trust me, everyone there was not a risk factor. See if you can get the shot somewhere.

Otherwise wash hands, stay away from sick people, and possibly mask on the plane.
posted by stormpooper at 12:39 PM on November 20, 2009

You might also find it useful to know that the vaccine does not provide instant protection -- it takes seven to ten days for immunity to develop.
posted by redfoxtail at 12:45 PM on November 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Heat and humidify your surroundings, if possible. Influenza is more infectious at lower temperatures.

In the hours after a possible exposure, chop or crush a clove of garlic, let it sit a few minutes, then swallow it raw. It's a cheap, fast, fairly effective antiseptic, if not a particularly enjoyable one. (Save this method for emergencies; on top of the odor issues, regular consumption of raw garlic might damage your digestive tract.)
posted by Iridic at 1:09 PM on November 20, 2009

In the hours after a possible exposure, chop or crush a clove of garlic, let it sit a few minutes, then swallow it raw. It's a cheap, fast, fairly effective antiseptic, if not a particularly enjoyable one.

It also won't do anything if you've been exposed to influenza since replication takes place initially in your nose, not your digestive tract.
posted by Justinian at 1:29 PM on November 20, 2009

It also won't do anything if you've been exposed to influenza since replication takes place initially in your nose, not your digestive tract.

The idea, as it was posed to me, is that the garlic purges viral replication in the throat. I freely admit that the method might be bunk, but I related it because there's little harm and cost for the effort, and it seems to have worked for me in the past.

posted by Iridic at 1:45 PM on November 20, 2009

In Ontario, it is available for everyone with an OHIP card. They definitely check for the card against the computer (well, I used my other id as I can't find my card) and if you have been out of Ontario for more that 212 days you are no longer covered. The wait times at the clinics are negligible and there will probably be vaccine still at Christmas as a lot was ordered and less people than expected are getting the shot.

I know a lot of people that had swine flu (mostly children - adult caregivers don't seem to be getting it from them) and while not fun, it was bearable and didn't leave the children incapacitated (bored and sleepy, yes).
posted by saucysault at 1:46 PM on November 20, 2009

Well, not to beat a dead horse, but delving into it even further it doesn't matter if viral replication takes place in the throat. Since some components of garlic (such as allicin) have been shown to have antibacterial properties and influenza is a virus.
posted by Justinian at 1:52 PM on November 20, 2009

I received my vaccine 2 weeks ago in Quebec (I'm a pregnant woman) and they require you to present your provincial healthcare card, and I am pretty sure this would be the case in other provinces too.
posted by MissSquare at 2:31 PM on November 20, 2009

Sassyfras, that email that you quoted is discussed by Snopes, and this article addresses some of the shortcomings of the recommendations in it.

As suggested above, I'd recommend following the standard recommendations from credible sources of health information, such as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and Health Canada.
posted by nobodyyouknow at 2:39 PM on November 20, 2009

Nthing all of the advice on hand washing. My mother is a nurse and claims a big issue with spreading the flu is improper handwashing: people tend not to wash their hands long enough, don't use enough soap, don't have the water hot enough, etc. It's really important to scrub under fingernails and equally important to remember not to touch eyes, nose or mouth after proper handwashing (which is why it is so important to wash your hands before and after eating).
posted by koselig at 5:13 PM on November 20, 2009

According to the Canadian Flu Watch website, the intensity of the flu is still high even though the number of reported outbreaks is down last week. That summary link gets updated tomorrow if you want a more current status.

It makes sense that we'd still be in the thick of it when the US has peakled; when I checked the WHO site a while back the US was further along in the course of the global pandemic than Canada. I'd assume this would continue to be the case.

As for getting a shot for free, no chance. Every province and territory has a health card system; it's used to keep tabs on the outbreak as well as to ensure that only citizens get the shot. I've heard anecdotally that immunizations for non-residents in Canadian hospitals cost a little bit more than the same in US hospitals. I'm sure that, since all regular citizens are now eligible for the free shot, any wait time you'd have in a private clinic would be approaching zero.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 7:26 PM on November 20, 2009

peakled (n): A word which gets invented when typing while pickled.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 7:28 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

There's plenty of flu shot to go around (in Ontario) and it's in the government's best interest to vaccinate as many people as possible, not just residents (note Hardcore Poser talked about vaccines being free for citizens only: Not so. Anyone who qualifies for medicare (basically any resident) can get a free shot. And citizens can't get free shots if they're not residents).

So anyway, if I were you I would call the nearest walk-in clinic as soon as you get in and ask if they have any vaccine. You don't' have to go to a dedicated flu vaccination clinic/site. Private doctors offices have it. My doctor has it but only gives it to her own patients because.. well, she only treats her patients. A walk-in clinic would be happy to take money from anyone.

And yeah, wash your hands.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:00 PM on November 20, 2009

Avoid sharing food and eating from communal dishes, especially with kids.
posted by fermezporte at 4:47 AM on November 21, 2009

In addition to all the good advice above: get enough sleep! Don't let any attendant holiday busyness leave you short of shut-eye. There are a number of studies connecting sleep with the immune system.
posted by Knicke at 5:37 AM on November 21, 2009

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