Influenza On And Off The Grid

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Influenza On and Off The Grid

Even with modern medical technology, few can avoid the occasional respiratory infection. Viral illnesses like colds and flus are common issues even for those who are in prime physical condition. Human illness involves the respiratory tract more commonly than any other organ system. Influenza is particularly contagious as germ-laden droplets are expelled during coughs and sneezes, entering the nose, mouth, or eyes of others.

You can expect influenza viruses to hit your part of the country anywhere from late fall to early spring, and most people weather their illness just fine. Some folks, however, especially the very old, very young, and those with chronic medical conditions, may not survive. Because of this, influenza-related pneumonia has earned the title “the old man’s friend” (because it ends their suffering).

The flu may not be life-threatening in normal times, and you might (foolishly) not take measures to prevent it. Survival scenarios, though, are a different story. 100 years ago, a flu epidemic ran rampant throughout the world, killing 50-100 million people. In a survival setting, we’ll be thrown back medically at least that far back.

Without strict adherence to hand washing and respiratory hygiene, it would be very easy for your entire community to become ill, and the physical stress associated with activities of daily survival might lead a weakened respiratory system to allow secondary infections like pneumonia to cause major trouble. At the very least, influenza can affect work efficiency at a time when everyone must be at one hundred per cent. If you’ve had the flu, you know what I mean.

Influenzas are usually caused by Influenza type A (the most common) and Type B viruses. They are classified according to the proteins that exist on their surface. These are called Hemagglutinins (HA) and Neuraminidases (NA). There are more and more different HA and NA subtypes discovered every year. The Swine flu, for example, is H1 N1. The flu this year is thought to be H3N2.

Symptoms of influenza begin anywhere from one to four days after exposure. They  include:

  • High fever
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Severe fatigue
  • Severe muscle aches

Colds will resolve themselves over a week or so, but influenzas may last longer. The flu could weaken you enough that secondary bacterial infections will set in. Indeed, these secondary infections are the most probable causes of death related to flu cases. If this happens, you’ll notice that you are getting worse, not better, over time despite the usual treatments.

These include medications like ibuprofen for muscles aches and fever, decongestants for nasal congestion, expectorants to thin out phlegm, cough suppressants (although they should be used only when there is difficulty breathing or sleeping) and others. As the flu is a viral illness, it’s important to know that antibiotics will be ineffective.

There are, however, a few anti-viral flu medications such as Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or Zanamivir (Relenza). These drugs will shorten the course of the infection if taken in the first 48 hours after symptoms appear. After the first 48 hours, there’s less medicinal effect.

Therefore, you might consider asking your doctor in normal times for a Tamiflu prescription at the beginning of every flu season, since it might be hard to get an appointment on short notice. For a caregiver with a number of flu patients to treat, taking a half dose daily for five days may decrease your chances of catching it.

The CDC recommends the flu vaccine for everyone over 6 months of age, but it’s important to know that the effectiveness of the vaccine may be less in years when the current virus is different from the previous years. Therefore, it’s important to take measures to prevent the flu and to isolate those who are infected from those that are healthy.

Other actions you can take to decrease the chance of getting or spreading the flu are:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • If no tissue is available, cough or sneeze into your upper arm, not your hand.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects, like doorknobs, that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.
  • Establish an effective “survival sick room” that will decrease the chances of spread throughout the entire family or group
  • Use face masks when sick or around others who are.
  • Wait 24 hours after the last episode of fever before exposing yourself to others.

The flu may be a bump on the road in your survival journey, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the road.

We’ll talk about natural remedies in the near future.

Joe Alton MD

Joe Alton, MD

Learn more about respiratory infections and 150 other medical issues in the 2017 Book Excellence Award winner in medicine “The Survival Medicine Handbook: The Essential Guide for When Medical Help is Not on the Way”. And fill those holes in your medical supplies with kits and individual items from Nurse Amy’s store at

Hey, don’t forget to check out our entire line of quality medical kits and individual supplies at Also, our Book Excellence Award-winning 700-page SURVIVAL MEDICINE HANDBOOK: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE FOR WHEN HELP IS NOT ON THE WAY is now available in black and white on Amazon and in color and color spiral-bound versions at

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