Swine Flu - What You Need to Know

Swine FluHealthFamilyMedicineDiseases and IllnessesU.S. Centers for Disease Control and PreventionMexico

Information is the best prevention.

As the government scrambles to provide vaccine for Swine Flu and contain the spread of the disease, perhaps the best tool available for you is the right information.

What is Swine Flu and how is it different from varieties of influenza we've seen before?

H1N1, or "Swine Flu" contains genetic material from swine, avian and human flu viruses. H1N1 viruses often circulate harmlessly, but since it's a new type of virus, humans don't normally have immunity to it. There are predictions worldwide about the spread of Swine Flu, but nobody is sure how far the disease will spread.

What are the symptoms?

These include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Body aches
  • Chills
  • Fatigue

Some cases also involve diarrhea and vomiting.

These symptoms are relatively common in most types of influenza. Your doctor can give you a Swine Flu test, though the results are not always definitive.

A fever is defined as having a body temperature of 100 degrees or greater.

Swine flu can also cause neurological problems in children, as do other types of flu. The disease is fatal in rare cases.

Who's at the highest risk?

Most U.S. cases have involved young adults and older children. A large number have involved those with morbid obesity.

Experts still caution that those at the highest risk from Swine Flu are young children, the elderly, those with immune disorders and other chronic illnesses.

How can I tell of co-workers, family members or others have Swine Flu?

It's virtually impossible to tell, as Swine Flu symptoms are similar to those of other types of flu. Still, experts advise you to stay six feet from those who appear sick. It's not necessary to wear a face mask, but it can help prevent you from spreading your flu virus to others.

How can I avoid infection

The CDC says hand washing is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of infection. Also, staying away from those who exhibit symptoms is also effective. A personal distance of six feet is recommended.

All household surfaces should be kept clean. Experts say the flu virus (H1N1 included) can stay alive on doorknobs, books, counters, sinks and desks for up to 8 hours.

What vaccines are available?

Vaccines are being prepared in large numbers. Millions of doses will be available in October with more being distributed each month thereafter. The CDC says children ages 6 months to 19 should get a flu shot each year.

What medications are effective?

Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir) are thought to be the most effective medications to combat H1N1. Doctors advise taking these drugs as soon as possible after symptoms are exhibited. The CDC adds that those who have been to areas with widespread infection should talk to their doctors about taking one of these antiviral medicines.

Health officials don't advise stockpiling Tamiflu and Relenza, though there have been reports in recent years about public health workers doing just that. Still, the government recommends leaving available medicines for those truly in need.

How do I prepare my family for a possible major outbreak?

The government web site Flu.gov advises that you keep a two week supply of food and water in the house. You should also make sure you have a large supply of any prescription drugs on hand. Make sure your children know to always wash their hands and stay away from others who are sick. Parents should cover coughs and sneezes with tissues and model that behavior for the children.

Talk with family members and loved ones about how they would be cared for if they got sick, or what will be needed to care for them in your home. Parents should make plans for child care in the event they themselves become sick.

What if a family member becomes sick?

Call your doctor. If you, your spouse or the kids are coughing and sneezing it could just be a cold. But if there's a fever, headache and other flu symptoms, that's an indication that it could be Swine Flu or some other strain of season influenza.

Also, anyone who's sick should stay home and avoid public areas.

What about travel? Is it safe?

Experts advise caution when traveling to Mexico since there have been large numbers of people infected with Swine Flu there. But you should check with your airline, and websites for the CDC and WHO before traveling since new advisories are constantly posted.

Why have so many people died from Swine Flu in Mexico but not in the U.S.?

Nobody is excactly sure, but it's possible that Americans generally get better, faster medical care. But some experts worry that the number of U.S. deaths could increase as the disease spreads.

Should we avoid pork?

That's not necessary. Swine Flu or H1N1 virus is spread between individuals or by touching surfaces contaminated with the virus. Pork has nothing to do with it.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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