Infectious disease – The bane of our lives. Something we all risk as we go about our daily business.
Very infectious diseases such as the common cold and the flu tend to hit their highest rates during the winter months and can make you feel like you’re at death’s door even though for most people they are a relatively mild illness.
There are a few steps you can take to minimise picking theses vile viruses up from other people:
- If you’re standing strap holding on public transport turn slightly so you’re not directly facing other travellers.
- In public washroom’s pull the outer door open right at the top or right at the bottom as most people grab it in the middle.
- Keep the TV remote and computer keyboards clean. Flu viruses can live for 72 hours on hard surfaces and up to 24 hours on soft furnishings.
- Wipe the fridge door handle regularly if you have
germ factorieschildren in the house.
- Practice good hand hygiene and make sure children are taught from day one how to wash their hands properly.
- Don’t let children who are coming down with, or have a cold mix with babies of illness-prone adults.
- Wear a scarf loosely around your mouth and nose when ‘flu season’ is at its height. If germs don’t get in you don’t get sick.
- Push elevator buttons with your knuckle rather than a finger pad.
- Wear gloves when outside mixing with others and swap them for a second pair daily.
- Get into the habit of not touching your face with your hands.
- Wash you hands or use alcohol or wipes regularly throughout the day particularly when out and about.
- Keep work telephone handsets clean and wipe them every time someone other than you uses your phone.
- Avoid doctors surgeries and any waiting rooms as much as possible.
- Stand aside from crowds as much as you can.
Sometimes, scientists tell us that on average every 30 years a localised flu epidemic spreads uncontrollably and the epidemic becomes a pandemic. A pandemic is nothing more or less than a global epidemic. Pandemic does not mean half the population is going to be wiped out, it says nothing for the severity of the disease that’s circling the globe.
The virulence of the flu, and what decides if it stays local or goes global is it’s novelty value. A novel virus is one that used to be two or more distinct virus that co-existed in the same person or animal for a time, swapped genetic material and emerged as a totally new, a novel virus. Some countries prefer to use the term new variant so the letters to look for are simple nv – as in nvCJD, new variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease or n – as in nH1N1, novel H1N1 swine flu.
Now, although nH1N1 was indeed a novel virus it was very closely related to the pandemic strain that caused the 1918 pandemic. Anyone who was alive and had pandemic flu during the pandemic of 1918 had resistance to nH1N1. The children, grandchildren and to some extent great-grandchildren of anyone who contracted pandemic flu during the 1918 pandemic would have had some residual resistance to nH1N1 and this is why it sickened and killed far less people than its predecessor.
In a truly novel pandemic, such as the 1918 pandemic people had no resistance and therefore 55% of the global population were sickened and between 1.1 and 2.2% died from it.
Herd immunity also comes into play. It’s possible that a community, often a small town, has had contact with a strain of flu that caused a local epidemic but never gained ground and remained localised. Should a pandemic flu that’s novel to most people, but a close relation to the one that caused the localised epidemic the casualty rate in that community will be far, far lower than the average. Herd immunity would protect the people in the community who hadn’t suffered from the flu in the localised epidemic because the pandemic would be less likely to get a hold on a relatively immune community.
It really is that simple.
So, let’s say for a minute that a totally novel virus surfaces, what then? Well, to put it in a nutshell, there is only one sure fire way not to catch it and that’s to make sure that you aren’t exposed to the virus in the first place.
Now years ago, before global travel was the norm, before people travelled extended distances to and from work this wasn’t too much of an issue.
A fine example of this is the village of Eyam (Pronounced Eeem) in Derbyshire UK. In 1665 a package of cloth arrived from London. sadly the cloth was flea infected, plague had arrived in the village. Although the Black death we hear about is concentrated in London the disease was making a slow march north through the countryside. William Mompesson the village church leader called a meeting and the whole village decided to go into self-isolation preventing the spread of the disease. The tailor who received the parcel was dead within a week, then other villagers started to die. Many wanted to flee but Mompesson convinced them they shouldn’t. The village went into lockdown. Outsiders from other villages left food at the outskirts of the village as nobody was leaving to trade or buy supplies. The Eyam villages left money to pay for the food in a trough of vinegar that ensured the coins weren’t infected. 260 out of the population of 350 died, but the plague didn’t progress to the large industrial and trading centres further north.
What about using self-isolation the other way around? Isolating yourself and you family to protect you from infectious disease. As I said, in this day and age where travel is far easier than it was in 1665 self-isolation is far easier said than done.
Once the news has broken you need to decide how close you will let reported cases get before you go into lockdown. 10 miles? 20? 50? more?
These are questions I can’t answer for you. If as a family you live, work and the children are educated close to home it would be relatively simple to carry on with life until a case was reported relatively close to your location.
If you commute to work, especially if you use public transport, work in a large city or travel internationally then you will have much tougher decisions to make and these are decisions that only you can make.
As I said, if the germs don’t get into you they can’t make you sick.