Flu season. For many of us, aches, pains, sneezing and coughing will interrupt our holidays and winter plans.
But we’re not defenseless. Many recent advances in flu fighting, including some made possible by plastics, can help us avoid the flu—and recover more quickly.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses. For those who are needle-phobic, plastics help provide a painless way for many Americans to get vaccinated. Some flu vaccines can be delivered directly into the nose using a comfortable plastic spray applicator, avoiding the needle. And CDC and other researchers are testing a new skin patch made with tiny, dissolving, plastic needles that could allow the flu vaccine to pass through the skin with little if any discomfort.
We touch our faces an average of 16 times an hour, which can transfer the flu virus to the nose and mouth. That’s why medical experts recommend washing our hands regularly. A hand sanitizer can help if there’s no access to soap and water. There are all sorts of handy plastic sanitizer containers, including a new pen-like, plastic applicator that easily fits in a pocket or purse. The plastic pen dispenses the right amount of sanitizer with each spray.
Plastics also can aid in flu treatment. An estimated 40 percent of Americans have trouble swallowing pills, particularly children and the elderly. Some patients resort to crushing or cutting pills to make them easier to swallow, which doctors advise against. A new pill delivery system made with plastics helps make taking medication a bit easier. Patients or caregivers fill the plastic base cup with water or juice, place the pill in the tube on the plastic top that snaps onto the cup—and then they simply drink. The design simulates the natural swallowing reflex to help the pill slide down the throat more easily.
Another plastics innovation: internet-linked GlowCaps™. The plastic cap, which can be attached to most prescription bottles, is fitted with a wireless chip and flashes and plays a ring tone when it’s medication time. If the bottle is not opened, the user receives a phone call reminder or a family member receives a text. The GlowCaps™ user and one family member also receive a weekly e-mail report. In addition, the high-tech cap coordinates refills with the pharmacy and delivers a monthly report to the patient and prescribing physician.
A simpler design called The Rx Timer Cap™ replaces the existing pill bottle cap with a plastic LCD “timer cap” that counts the hours and minutes since the bottle was last opened, making it easier to adhere to dosage schedules.
Some antiviral drugs to fight the flu can be administered as a powder that is inhaled through a Diskhaler®, a plastic, dry-powder inhaler. The Diskhaler® uses a plastic needle to pierce a blister pack that contains the medication, dispersing it into the air stream as the patient breathes in.
While the flu viruses vary from year to year, some simple preventative measures—coupled with new medical technologies and plastic innovations—can make flu season a little easier to manage.