Swine Flu: 14 Things You Need to Know
By Nancy Shute
The outbreak of a new form of swine flu has prompted
President Obama calls the emergency a "precautionary tool," since so far the outbreak has had only limited impact in
So far, 20 cases have been confirmed in
Other confirmed cases have been identified in
This outbreak could peter out, like a 1976 swine flu outbreak did. Or the virus could spread easily from one person to the next, sparking a pandemic in which millions of people are infected.
"Viruses are unpredictable and variable over time. What we say and what we learn will change."
Here's the rundown on what we know so far, as well as the options for avoiding swine flu and for treating it if you get it.
How is swine flu different than seasonal influenza and bird flu?
This is a new flu bug that includes genetic segments from human, swine, and avian flu viruses. It is an influenza A H1N1 strain, named for two proteins in the bug's protein coat.
H1N1 viruses often circulate without causing major outbreaks. But since this flu virus is new, people might not have immunity to it. That's why the global public health system is on alert. No one knows where this outbreak might lead.
What symptoms would tell me I have swine flu?
Swine flu symptoms are similar to the symptoms of regular seasonal flu, according to the CDC. Those include:
- Lack of appetite
Some people with swine flu have also reported runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
How can I tell if someone sitting next to me has swine flu?
You can't. If someone is showing the symptoms described above, it couldn't hurt to keep your distance.
Of course, your neighbor might just have a stuffy nose caused by a mild cold or seasonal allergies.
Should I be wearing a face mask, like they're wearing in
Not unless you're taking care of a person who's sick with swine flu or are sick yourself.
Wearing masks is a popular reaction to respiratory outbreaks in parts of the world, but it's not a step that the U.S. government has recommended for the current outbreak.
The CDC has an online guide to using masks and respirators to prevent flu transmission.
Is there a vaccine available for this new swine flu?
No. Developing and producing a vaccine matched to this flu virus will take several months.
What's the best way to avoid getting exposed to the swine flu virus?
For now, avoid people who are coughing or sick. The CDC also recommends hand washing to reduce the risk of flu. Though frequent hand washing hasn't specifically been proved to protect against swine flu, it does reduce the risk of respiratory infections generally.
What other things can I do to get my family prepared?
It never hurts to think about what you would do if swine flu hits your community hard, the CDC's Besser says.
That may mean that schools would be closed, as has been done in
The federal government's pandemic flu website has suggestions on getting ready at home and at work.
One example: Do you have enough food in the house to feed your family if you had to stay home for a week?
You can also check with your employer to make sure the company has a plan in case of a flu pandemic. And you can prepare yourself for the possibility you'd have to work from home for a while.
Is it dangerous to eat pork?
No. This flu virus is spread from person to person by touching surfaces infected with the virus or by inhaling viruses from someone coughing. You can't get swine flu from eating pork.
What should I do if I or someone in my family is sick?
"Calling the doctor is never the wrong thing to do," says Mark Metursky, a professor of medicine at the
You'll know you have the flu and not just a cold if you've got a fever of 102 or more, a headache, and muscle aches.
"If you have a respiratory infection with fever, don't go to work or school," says Duchin. To minimize the risk of infecting others, avoid traveling by air and taking public transportation if you have the flu.
People aren't at risk of swine flu for now, Metursky says, unless they have traveled to
What medications work against swine flu?
Laboratory tests suggest this swine flu is susceptible to the antiviral drugs Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir). To be effective, these drugs need to be taken as soon as possible after a person has flu symptoms.
"The sooner you talk to your doctor the better," Metursky says. The CDC has new recommendations
for using antivirals to treat swine flu; people who are sick and have
recently been to
Should I stockpile Tamiflu?
The federal government doesn't recommend that people stockpile Tamiflu at home, saying it should be saved for people who are sick with influenza now. But many public health scientists have set aside some Tamiflu for themselves in the past few years because of concern about the possibility of a pandemic caused by bird flu. It's your call.
I'm not sick. Should I avoid traveling?
This might not be the wisest time to vacation in
Why has the swine flu been deadly in
No one knows for sure.
It could be that Americans who've gotten infected had better, faster access to health care. Or it could be that the U.S. is just at an earlier stage in the outbreak, Duchin says. If that's the case, U.S. deaths could occur as the outbreak matures.
Where do I look for more news on swine flu?
The federal government's pandemic flu website provides a broad range of information on preparing for a pandemic.
As predicted, pregnant women are, indeed, on the government's list of the first folks to be vaccinated against the H1N1 swine flu virus. The panel of experts convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that the new vaccine be provided first to pregnant women and adults with compromised immune systems, who face a greater risk of complications, and others, like children and health-care workers.
Swine Flu Hits Pregnant Women Harder
New research shows pregnant women who get swine flu are more likely to develop severe complications that result in hospitalization or even death, according to a study published in the journal Lancet.
Dealing with the Swine Flu Threat During Pregnancy
The worldwide death toll from swine flu is now at 700, according to the World Health Organization. And the U.S. government is gearing up for a mass vaccination campaign this fall, one not seen since the polio vaccine first became available in the 1950s. An H1N1 vaccine is still being tested for safety and efficacy. When it becomes available later this fall, should pregnant women be among the first to get it, or the last?
Think You Have Swine Flu? What to Do
By Deborah Kotz
It's OK to go about your life as usual even in the face of this flu "pandemic". But you should be aware of the telltale signs of H1N1: fever, cough, sore throat, stomach cramps, diarrhea, fatigue, and muscle aches.
Wayne Marasco is no doubt the only Harvard medical researcher who abandoned a successful construction firm, Waymar Roofing and Siding, to become an immunologist. The man with the unorthodox history recently made a striking discovery: a human antibody that attacks a newfound vulnerability in flu viruses.
Who's Ready if Swine Flu Pandemic Comes Knocking
Andy Coghlan, Linda Geddes & Rachel Nowak, New Scientist Magazine
Doomsday visions of curfews, sealed borders, travel bans and scuffles over food are a long way from materializing in the current crisis regarding swine flu.
But if the World Health Organization declares a pandemic, countries could bring in draconian measures to isolate and treat infection, prevent further spread and keep societies functioning.
The question, then, is which countries are ready and prepared to handle a Swine Flu Pandemic.
(C) 2009 U.S. News & World Report