Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Swine Flu Made Simple

What It Is and What to Do: A Primer


What is swine flu?

It's a flu that occurs in pigs, and in rare cases is passed from pigs to humans. The strain now circulating is worrisome because it can pass from person to person. Like human flu, the effects of swine flu can range from mild to severe.

Is the disease the same in Mexico and the U.S.?

The virus appears to be the same. It is suspected of causing more than 80 deaths in Mexico, but the symptoms have been mild in the confirmed U.S. cases so far, with most patients recovering without a hospital stay. It remains unclear why. An official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Sunday that as cases continue to emerge in the U.S., some may prove fatal.
[What It Is and What to Do: A Primer] European Pressphoto Agency

St. Francis Preparatory School in New York City was cleaned Sunday after eight students were found to have human swine flu.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms are similar to those of a standard flu: fever, as well as combinations of cough, sore throat, body aches, headaches, chills and fatigue. Some cases have also included reports of vomiting or diarrhea.

What should I do if I feel sick?

People with ordinary flu symptoms don't need to seek emergency care, officials said. Health officials recommend seeking urgent medical help for children when flu symptoms also include difficulty breathing, bluish skin color, fever with rash, and symptoms that begin to improve then return with fever and a worse cough. In adults, serious warning signs include difficulty breathing, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, dizziness, confusion and persistent vomiting.

Can the swine flu be treated with drugs?

Two drugs, sold under the brand names Tamiflu and Relenza, may reduce the swine flu's severity and duration. Most U.S. patients have recovered without the drugs. Both of these medications have also been approved to reduce the risk of contracting the seasonal flu. But, unlike a vaccine, they don't provide long-lasting protection. So their preventive use is limited to certain, narrow circumstances. The two drugs, which are included in the federal government's pandemic stockpile, are available only with a doctor's prescription.

Does my flu shot protect against the swine flu?

The CDC says the seasonal flu vaccine is "unlikely to provide protection" against the swine flu. The agency has created a "seed vaccine" tailored to this swine flu. That could be used to manufacture a targeted vaccine if officials decide it's necessary, but that could take months.

Are there ways to reduce the spread of the disease?

Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze. Wash your hands often. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Avoid close contact with infected people. People who have mild symptoms should stay home until 48 hours after the symptoms have passed to avoid spreading the disease, health officials said.

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