I’m a big believer in pre-packs. Jump bags, go-kits, that sort of thing. You gather your supplies in advance so when the world is falling apart around you, you’re ready to take action.
As-you-know-Bob, there’s been a lot of talk about the Avian Flu. Whether the current Avian Flu is the one that’s going to go all pandemic on us I don’t know. What I do know is that someday (maybe this year, maybe next year, maybe ten years from now) a flu will go pandemic and we’ll be seeing some major mortality figures. Even without a pandemic, flu kills around 36,000 Americans every year.
The flu is a virus. Viruses are interesting little thingies … not really alive, not really not-alive. They’re a piece of genetic material (RNA or DNA) inside of a protein capsid. Some viruses have a lipid envelope around that.
Without a living cell, that genetic material can’t do diddly. So this little protein capsid just hangs around being inert. What the virus needs is a living cell. We, unfortunately, are just quivering masses of living cells.
Living cells have mechanisms for bringing stuff from outside to inside. Think of the outside of a cell as being covered with little bitty keyholes (receptors). Hormones and food and such are covered with little bitty keys. When the right key hits the right keyhole, the substance can enter a cell or instruct it to do something.
You can fool those little bitty keyholes with a chemical that has the same shape as the chemical they’re looking for. For example: Some cells have receptors that are shaped to take endorphins, molecules made by other cells that say “Stop hurting,” or words to that effect. Morphine and the opiates have keys on them that happen to fit the endorphin receptors. We whack someone up with morphine and the cells that are expecting endorphins have morphine latch onto them instead, and they say “Okay, we’ll stop hurting now.”
Viruses have proteins on their capsids that will latch onto the receptors on some cells and tell them “Take me inside now.” There are a wide variety of cells in the world. Each of them have particular protein receptor shapes. A virus with the protein that tells tobacco leaf cells to take it inside won’t be able to fool cells in your lungs. Different shaped keys, different shaped keyholes.
As it happens, flu viruses can latch on to some bird cells and some human cells (and some pig cells too). That’s what allows the flu to spread from birds or pigs to humans. Not all humans are susceptible to viruses that fit bird receptors. But it’s possible that the virus can mutate so that will be better fitted to humans. When that happens, watch out.
Once inside a cell, the virus capsid opens and the DNA or RNA goes to work. The cell’s mechanisms for making more cells or doing whatever other useful thing are put to work creating more virus parts. Those virus parts are assembled into completed viruses, which either get pumped out through the cell membrane one at a time (budding) or all as a group when the cell explodes (lysis).
Sometimes the viruses mutate while all this is going on. Flu is famous for mutating … hence many strains. If you have antibodies for a previous strain of flu, those antibodies don’t work (antibodies have little keys too, looking for locks on the flu capsid) since they’ve never seen the particular shape for this particular strain before.
The body gets sick — from all the cells that are no longer performing their assigned function because they’re making virus instead, or from bacterial infections that take the opportunity to nail you while your resistance is lowered, or from the immune reaction as the body tries to fight off the viral infection. Your body makes cytokines, which limit the damage under most circumstances. Get too much virus activity in the body, though, and the cytokines overwhelm your organs and you’ve got organ failure, and death.
Here’s a nice slideshow of the whole process.
There isn’t much you can do about viruses. Antibiotics won’t touch them, since they aren’t alive to start with. There are some anti-viral agents, but they’re not 100% even if you can get them and get them in time. You can make vaccines, which introduce your body to the virus in advance so that your antibodies have the correct keys to whack the viruses when they first appear, before there are so many that you’re overwhelmed, but flu (with its rapid mutation rate) is tricky that way. First you have to have a sample of the virulent virus before you can make a vaccine … and so far there’s no sample of the Avian Flu virus that’s mutated into a human-human transmissible form. Once it’s done that, we’ll have something to work with. Until then, making a vaccine against a theoretical disease is tough.
Anyway … this gets us back to pre-packs. The best way to treat flu, whether the usual kind or a super-deluxe pandemic flu, is to treat the symptoms. Support the patient and let the patient’s immune system handle the disease. The flu may not kill you … what may kill you is dehydration from vomiting, from diarrhea, from sweating, from feeling too darned weak to fix a cup of soup, from fever denaturing the proteins in your brain (happens somewhere around 105 degrees Farenheit, 40.5 degrees Celcius).
So what do you do? Well before you come down with the flu, make yourself a flu kit.
And here, my friends, is a great inventory list for just such a kit. Under the title Filling a Much-Needed Void:
So what do you do if you get sick anyway? Well, hopefully you’ve planned ahead a little and built yourself a nice little flu kit so that you can treat yourself adequately in the comfort of your own home, with your own bed and blankies and CD collection and those nice soft fluffy comforting kittycats (who hopefully haven’t managed to give you any of the diseases listed above, sweet little moggies).
A flu kit is going to be a little more extensive than what one might want to lay in for an average case of the flu. The idea here is that if there should be a genuine flu epidemic, hospitals are going to be overwhelmed pretty quickly with a) people who didn’t prepare, b) people who got sick and are panicking, and c) people who have complications and are genuinely in need of hospital care.
[UPDATE: Inventory list link is now dead. See post #83 below.]
There are a couple of places where it could be expanded. For example, here are a couple of items:
10. plain old table salt (to mix with water to help keep your electrolytes up)
11. plain old table sugar (see above)
But that doesn’t tell you how to use the salt and sugar to keep your electrolytes up. (Electrolyte imbalance can kill you.) The answer is: 5cc of salt plus 40cc of sugar to one liter of clean drinking water. See here for more on that.
I’d also add a box of surgical masks to the list, so that uninfected caregivers can stay uninfected while assisting patients. Put a mask on the caregiver and another on the patient to lower the droplet transmission from coughing and sneezing. Don’t forget to wash your hands frequently; I’d add a bar (or bottle) of hand soap to the kit.
But, like I said, good list. Go make a kit for everyone in your household. Maybe not this year, maybe not next year, but one of these days….
Copyright © 2006 by James D. Macdonald
I am not a physician. I can neither diagnose nor prescribe. This post is presented for entertainment purposes only. Nothing here is meant to be advice for your particular condition or situation.
Flu Pre-pack by James D. Macdonald is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
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