Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Swine Flu: Top 12 answers you need to know

Answered by infectious disease expert Charles Ericsson, M.D., professor of internal medicine and director of Travel Medicine at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston.

1. How do symptoms of swine flu differ from other types of flu?
None, really, although this flu might include gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhea and vomiting), as well as the usual respiratory symptoms. The basic symptoms may include: fever (100°F+), sore throat, cough, stuffy nose, chills, headache and body aches, fatigue.

2. If I felt flu-like, how would I know if I had swine flu? Swine flu is identified through a respiratory specimen taken within the first 4-5 days and sent to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is best not to report to the hospital, clinic or doctor's office, where you could risk spreading the disease. Again, call your doctor first to get instructions as to what you need to do next.

3. How long are people contagious? Adults are potentially contagious for the length of time one has symptoms, up to 7 days following the beginning of illness. Children can be considered contagious longer, up to 10 days. The initial incubation period is 24-48 hours.

4. Is there medication for this? Yes, although there is no vaccine, there are four anti-viral drugs commonly used to treat various strains of flu. Tamiflu or Relenza have shown to be effective against recently reported strains of swine flu. Prophylactic (preventative) use of anti-virals is not recommended. Previous vaccines for swine flu you might have taken would provide incomplete protection at best.

5. What are emergency warning signs of complications?
Emergency warning signs in children are: Fast breathing or trouble breathing, bluish skin color, not drinking enough fluids, not waking up or interacting, being very irritable, fever with a rash, Emergency warning signs in adults are: difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion, severe or persistent vomiting.

6. Can I catch it from pigs or from eating pork? No and absolutely not.

7. Can it kill me? Deaths have been reported from the Mexico City outbreak but so far, cases reported in the US have been mild and no deaths have been reported (as of April 27, 2009).

8. Should I cancel my vacation to Mexico?
Check frequently with the CDC Web site for possible Travel Alerts.None of the more than 4,000 flights to Mexico from the US have been canceled as of this writing. However, some international airports in Europe and Asia are stepping up precautions and issuing alerts.

9. What if I'm on a plane? Should I wear a mask? Not necessary. The air on a plane is filtered.

10. How long does the germ live on surfaces, like on my desk if someone sneezes in my office? Influenza virus survives only minutes on inanimate objects or hands. Influenza is most easily spread by droplets that come into contact with our mucus membranes such as when someone coughs or sneezes in our faces. Good hand washing can diminishing the spread of the disease.

11. What can I do to take care of myself and others? If you are ill, stay home. Control your sneezes and coughs. If you cough into your hand, remember the virus could be live on your hand at least for a few minutes, so wash your hands before touching anyone else. If you get symptoms suggesting the flu, call your doctor. Resist going to the doctor’s office or a hospital to avoid sprading the disease to others.

12. What else can I do? Keep in touch with the most recent CDC messages through the following link:

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