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An Overview of Swine Flu

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

I went to Grand Rounds (a teaching conference) at the hospital this morning and the title of the lecture was “Swine Flu and You- An Overview”. The lecture reviewed the timeline of the current swine flu outbreak, which is now called the H1N1 virus, and updated the current status of this virus in the U.S. They again reiterated that this virus, is a new, unique virus that we have not previously seen, which makes us non-immune, and is made up of a combination of genetic material from pig, avian and human origin. The swine flu virus is completely distinct from the circulating seasonal influenza, which is tapering off at this time. The seasonal influenza vaccine from 2008-2009 is NOT protective against the swine flu virus.

The World Health Organization (WHO) raised the pandemic alert level to 5 today, which signifies “that there is human to human spread of the virus in more than two countries in at least one WHO region, and that pandemic influenza may be imminent and countries need to be making plans for outbreaks.” There have currently been documented cases in nine countries.

To date there have been 91 confirmed cases of swine flu in the US in over seven states with more states sending specimens for confirmation to the CDC. The number of cases changes hourly and there are expected to be numerous new cases reported daily in various areas of the United States. There have not been clusters of disease reported except in NYC at one school. There has been one death reported in a toddler from Mexico who had travelled to the U.S. and was hospitalized and died in Houston. The reports that I have seen also indicated that he had other underlying medical problems. As more people are infected we may see more serious complications and even deaths, but for most of the cases that have been reported to date, the illness has been fairly mild with typical flu symptoms: fever, cough, congestion, sore throat, body aches and occasional vomiting and diarrhea.

At this point I am getting many questions about keeping children home from school, travel and after school activities. Unless your child is sick, or in a school district that has confirmed cases of swine flu and school is closed, they should continue to go to school. If a case of swine flu is confirmed in your school the school district will decide whether a school should be closed. Indeed, this virus is spread via close personal contact and aerosolized droplets which means exposure to coughs, sneezes etc. within three to six feet of the infected individual.

The best precaution continues to be good hand washing and cough hygiene and teaching your children this by example and showing them how to use a tissue and dispose of it once used.

Our office has had several cases of confirmed Influenza A, of the seasonal variety (which is rather late for this time of year) and no swine flu cases. Tamiflu or Relenza continue to be the drugs of choice to treat swine flu, and should NOT be prescribed unless a child is tested and is positive for influenza. There is no need to test children who are asymptomatic, “just in case they might get sick.” Parents do not need to keep a “supply” of Tamiflu on hand for themselves or their children. Parents need to be vigilant about obtaining good information. Concern is appropriate, alarm is not.

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

More Information: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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