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The Facts About Swine Flu

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.


With the swine flu topping the news I thought it would be prudent to discuss it here as well. Swine flu is an Influenza A virus that is typically seen in herds of pigs or in those people who come into contact with pigs. In this case the Influenza A that has been detected (Swine Flu, H1N1) is a flu that has both swine, avian and human virus in its genetic material. It also seems to be spreading across the country as well as Mexico and Canada from person to person contact. The virus has already sickened several thousand in Mexico, where it was first reported in March of this year. There have been as many as 80 deaths reported in Mexico secondary to swine flu. In the U.S. new cases are being detected everyday, and the patients have typical symptoms of flu: high fever, cough, body aches, sore throat, congestion and may have GI symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea. To date cases have been diagnosed in California, Texas, Ohio, Kansas and New York. More cases seem sure to follow as doctors become more aware of the illness and begin testing for swine flu and sending specimens to the health department for further testing.

This year had been a relatively mild flu season across the country. With the emergence of swine flu it seems that we may be in for a late spring and summer flu with an influenza virus that has not been seen before. This is important as it means that more people are susceptible to swine flu as we do not have antibody to that virus. Flu viruses are passed person to person by respiratory droplets as well as by contact with the virus on surfaces that then get transferred to our hands where the virus may then be inoculated into our eyes, nose and throat when our hands come into contact with our face. (Think of how many times a day you rub your eyes, nose, or children’s little fingers go in their nose or mouths?!)

The CDC has said that the swine flu is antigenically different from the Influenza A virus contained in this years flu vaccine and therefore there is not protection from getting swine flu even if you have had the flu vaccine. This too is cause for concern and more studies are being done in efforts to make a new vaccine quickly if the virus becomes a pandemic.

The good news is that swine flu seems to be sensitive to the drugs Tamiflu and Relenza . These drugs must be started within 48 hours of flu symptoms to be effective in shortening the course of the illness. Tamiflu may not be used in children under one year of age, and Relenza is not approved for children under seven years.

If you are sick, or have children that are sick with flu like symptoms, do not go to work or send children to school. The flu is most contagious during the first four days of the illness. The only way to prevent spread of the flu is to stay home and away from other people. The best protection against viral illnesses continues to be good hand washing!!

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

More Information: Centers For Disease Control and Prevention

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