Dr. Ira Longini, from the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Institute at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, studies the spread of hypothetical flu epidemics in the U.S.
Dr. Longini says that people in North America and Europe have lucked out a bit in the timing of this outbreak. Summer will soon be here and with it the end of the normal flu season. It turns out that influenza, whether it’s a new strain or the regular strain, follows a season.
Other parts of the world are moving into their flu season. People living in Australia, New Zealand and points south could see the brunt of the swine flu outbreak, whatever that ends up looking like.
Speaking of swine flu – the name “swine flu” is giving the people who sell and market pork products the willies. The CDC says you can’t get “swine flu” from eating pork. You can get other diseases from pork if it’s not cooked and handled properly, but not influenza, so we may see a gradual movement away from the name “swine flu.”
The CDC is reporting numbers of confirmed cases in the U.S. only once a day. For a national picture, tune into CDC, but for a more immediate picture, CDC spokespeople tell us to go to each state for info, as the states are receiving test kits and can confirm and report cases on their own.
Five individuals have been hospitalized in the U.S., with expectations that more will follow. At this time, the virus seems to be harder on teens and young adults, although the picture isn’t clear enough to say for sure.
There’s not enough data to say who’s at higher risk for complication of swine influenza A (H1N1), but it’s probable that pregnant women would be because they’re at higher risk of complications from seasonal flu, and are known to have been at greater risk during previous pandemics.
There’s a lot of talk right now about this new virus. That’s because it is new and the future is uncertain. It could end up a flash that gave us a scare and not much more, or it could circulate for years. No one knows, and that’s why it’s making the news.
One of the important things to remember is that we have lots of tools to slow transmission and to treat infection:
- Cover your coughs and sneezes – this is believed to be the primary method of transmission for this virus. Use a tissue to cover your nose and mouth or at least use your arm or shoulder if you’ve no tissues handy.
- Handwashing throughout the day with warm water and soap is always a good germ buster. Alcohol-based hand cleaners will also work if you’re not around soap and water.
- Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth, as those are entryways for germs.
- If you’re sick, stay home, particularly if you have a respiratory illness and a fever.
- Check in with your doctor if you have flu symptoms, and they include cough, sore throat, body aches, fever, chills, and tiredness. Some of the people infected with swine flu have had diarrhea and vomiting.
- If you get on antivirals within 48 hours, they will ease your symptoms.
There are 36,000 deaths each year from seasonal influenza in the United States. So far, this strain of flu is very mild, at least in the U.S. Holding on to perspective is important, because the newness of the strain keeps everyone talking about it, but it’s still flu, and that’s not new.