Swine Flu (H1N1) is starting to creep back into the news and will probably reach TV hysteria by September. I believe it will be a mild version and not have a large impact in the U.S. Even so, we are planning to continue serving your eye care and eye doctor needs if it should become a severe pandemic.
The first thing to consider is isolation as the number one, proven method to stop the spread of flu. During the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918 Western Samoa was devastated with 90% of the population infected and high mortality rates. American Samoa was barricaded closed and was flu free. Here in Gunnison, Colorado the train station was closed with similar results.
Isolation works. Flu cycles typically occur for about 6 weeks, returning after months for a few more cycles. That means planning on restricting activities for about 6 weeks. If needed, we have plans to extend refill times on prescriptions and mail glasses or contact lenses directly to your house. For office visits we plan on scheduling every visit, even pick ups, adjustments, or any type of office visit. By reducing the number of people in the office at the same time as you we can greatly reduce exposure. We can also perform more limited exams during the 6 week cycle. We will request you come in alone if at all possible to reduce exposure to our employees. By scheduling all visits we can reduce the number of employees in the office at any given time reducing exposure.
Obviously, if you feel like you might have the flu we would request rescheduling your appointment. While we do have some face masks, there are still questions if they have any effect on preventing transmission. As you might know, most masks are manufactured overseas and difficult to obtain. We may request patients to wear them instead of us to extend the supply we do have. As you may have heard there will be a shortage of vaccine. Unfortunately, in years past most production was moved offshore. The last several years there has been a move to correct this but only 40 million vacines are expected from initial production in October.
Additional measures will be placing hand washing stations by the doors for everyone entering the office, and requesting keeping a three foot distance away from anyone else.
Pinkeye is not a common complication of the H1N1 Flu and there are reports of a number of cases with low or no fevers.
Again, I personally so not expect this to be a serious problem in the U.S. and don’t expect we will need to change our normal procedures, but we are prepared to if needed. Less developed parts of the world have the potential to face a much more grim prospect due to crowding, hygiene, and lack of health care. Probably the worst thing we can expect is the possibility of being stuck at home with kids when the internet or cable goes down!