Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Keeping Healthy during the Swine Flu Outbreak

The recent swine flu outbreak in Mexico and the few reported swine flu cases (50 as of this writing) in the United States are causing worry among older citizens who are generally more vulnerable to infections.  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has published information to clarify the situation and allay the public's anxiety.

Swine flu is a respiratory infection caused by a strain of influenza virus A known as H1N1.  It is generally a disease found in pigs but from time to time it finds its way to humans.  Transmission is from person to person only, by droplet (sneezing, coughing or touching a surface like door knobs, telephones, and desks, with the virus and touching the nose, mouth, or eyes).  You cannot get swine flu by eating pork.  It is contagious one day before symptoms appear and up to seven days after the person feels better.  Previous outbreaks have been relatively mild.  In 1976, 200 cases were reported in Fort Dix, North Carolina and in the three years between 2005 to he end of 2008, 12 cases of human infection wer reported.  The April 2009 cases reported in the US seem to be mild as well. 

The symptoms of swine flu are similar to any influenza infection and consist of tiredness, fever, chills, cough, sore throat, and body aches.  Some people complain of diarrhea and vomiting.  As in seasonal flu, swine flu is self limiting although the course and intensity may be shortened by antiviral medications.  Of significance to older adults is that flu can worsen other medical conditions and persons with decreased immune responses may be quite susceptible to complications such as bacterial infections like pneumonia.  

Keeping safe and healthy:

  • Get plenty of rest, stay hydrated and continue with physical exercise.
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • If you cough or sneeze, cover the mouth and nose with tissue paper and throw it in the trash.  If you do not have tissue paper, cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow.
  • Stay away from sick people.
  • If you feel sick, stay home, rest and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Call your health care provider if you get dizzy, experience chest pain or oppression, trouble breathing, or severe persistent vomiting or diarrhea.
There is no vaccine for swine flu just yet. Two prescription antiviral agents, oseltamivir and zanamivir, can shorten the course of the illness if taken within two days of the onset of symptoms.

Swine flu cases reported seems to all be mild and self-limiting.  Don't panic.  Call your health care provider if you have concerns or check the CDC website for further information.

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