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Swine Flu and the Sacramento Homeless

Confirmed Deaths Confirmed Cases
Unconfirmed Cases No Reported Cases
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There is talk in the street and in the dorms about the danger of having swine flu spread rapidly among our area's homeless population.

The dorms in the middle of the city are tightly spaced with one, at the Union Gospel Mission, that puts 60 men in particularly close quarters in narrow bunk beds in a single, undivided room.

Of group dining halls, the two for denizens of Loaves & Fishes are cramped, with many food-serving volunteers who are ill trained in restaurant-level cleanliness practices.

The flu outbreak has killed dozens of people in Mexico, the epicenter of the disease, and the count of afflicted in the United States is 70. According to the Sac Bee, three seventh-grade students in Fair Oaks, a suburb of Sacramento, are reported to be ill with the virus, as is a health-care worker associated with the school. Nine other young people at the school are suffering flu-like symptoms; they are yet to be tested.

Two deaths in Los Angeles county are now being investigated by the coroner's office, there, for possibly being caused by swine flu. There has yet to be any official report of death from the flu in the US.

At Mercy Clinic at Loaves & Fishes, today, people coming for services were offered blue masks. The purpose of a face mask is to effectively cover a person's mouth and nose so that if a person is around someone who is infected, there is a decreased likelihood of transmission.

What is the disease?

According to wikipedia, symptoms of swine flu, generally, are chills, fever, sore throat, muscle pains, severe headache, coughing, weakness and discomfort. The strain responsible for the 2009 swine flu outbreak in most cases causes only mild symptoms and the infected person recovers fully.

The Center for Disease Control [the CDC] tells us this new virus has the potential to become a flu pandemic because the strain is novel, transmitted from human to human against little immunity, and the Mexican mortality rate is unusually high.

Prevention and Treatment

Recommendations to prevent infection by the virus consist of the standard personal precautions against influenza. This includes:
  • Frequent washing of hands with soap and water or with alcohol-based hand sanitizers, especially after being out in public.
  • People should avoid touching their mouth, nose or eyes with their hands unless they've washed their hands.
  • If people do cough, they should either cough into a tissue and throw it in the garbage immediately or, if they cough in their hand, they should wash their hands immediately.
Current development, large-scale manufacturing, distribution and delivery of a new vaccine takes several months. The WHO Director-General announced that production of the unchanged seasonal vaccine should continue for now, and that the WHO would assist the development process for an effective vaccine.

U.S.-based medical product company Baxter International has requested a virus sample from the WHO in order to begin development of a new vaccine. Baxter has patented a cell-based technology that may allow the company to develop a vaccine in half the time it usually takes, possibly cutting development time from six months to three.

Homeless-Aid Volunteers

There is some question about how soon homeless organization volunteers might stop offering their free services if the virus becomes increasingly a threat.

This blog has advocated in the past that many jobs done by volunteers should be done by homeless people themselves. Certainly, the Rehab Program guys at Union Gospel Mission do a great job performing most of the work that is needed to keep the mission with all its programs and services going. The Rehab guys are effectively homeless, living in a dorm, as they are trained to be wholesome Christian citizens in a nine-month program.

There is no doubt in my mind that there is a bounty of good workers in the homeless community who could take over the work now done by volunteers. I would expect, though, that these men and women should be remunerated for what they do. Many homeless organizations receive quite a lot in donations, grants and payment from other sources. They must find a way to pay wages for work that is now getting done for free, if it comes to that.

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