Swine Flu FAQ

Oct 29


Dr. Patricia Pitsel

Dr. Patricia Pitsel

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(April 28, 2009) We've been expecting something like this, right? Scientists, government leaders, and health officials world over have been begging us to prepare for a health crisis.


We've been told how quickly it can be upon us and to be prepared well in advance for just such an occurrence.  There are no social systems in place robust enough to deliver all the care that will be required when a pandemic influenza develops; and when push comes to shove we all will want to be as self-reliant and independent as possible.

Even so,Swine Flu FAQ Articles watching the progress of the medical news story coming out of Mexico about the recent swine flu outbreak, it has been astonishing how quickly the infection has spread.  It may have been difficult to imagine, before this weekend, how it could be so.  But to see the news early last Friday of a swine flu outbreak in Mexico, and that outbreaks were soon occurring in Texas, California and New York within hours of the first news was truly sobering.  And we now have 6 confirmed cases in Canada; in Nova Scotia, and in B.C.

The following web site will be helpful in tracking the flu's progress.  Fortunately, whether a pandemic results from a bird flu virus, or from a swine flu virus, the preparations to protect yourself, your family, and your business are the same.  http://hisz.rsoe.hu/alertmap/

We include some answers to frequently asked questions to refresh you for what may or may not result in a pandemic.  Whether this circumstance does become pandemic, or another virus does, officials are watching carefully and using all the precautions they have put in place.

What is swine flu?It is a form of virus that normally infects pigs.  Many forms of flu and virus have the ability to exchange genes with one another.  The form of flu originating in Mexico is a mutation of viruses that have been seen in pigs, birds, and people.

How do people catch swine flu?Though they are still studying this particular swine flu, an influenza virus is generally transmitted through the respiratory system.  Droplets of infected body fluids transmit flu when people cough or sneeze.

What are the symptoms of swine flu?It usually takes one to four days between infection and the onset of symptoms.  Coughing, sneezing, headaches, body aches, fever, chills, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea are accompanying symptoms.  It may be difficult to distinguish from other strains of flu and colds.  Severe cases of flu that lead to death are normally seen in very young and very old people whose immune systems are too weak to fight off the virus.  This particular virus appears to attack young adults as well with deadly results.

Why are health officials concerned about the swine flu?The swine flu virus from Mexico appears to have the ability to spread quickly and be lethal according to the World health Organization.  When flu viruses mix their genes (mutate) with others they adapt to new environments and become harder for the immune system to defend against.  With little resistance from the immune system they can grow quickly and invade many tissues and organs which may set off a harmful immune system overreaction called a "cytokine storm," that may be lethal in itself.

Researchers are investigating this virus right now to determine how easily the virus spreads in people and how dangerous it is.

What is a flu pandemic?Influenza pandemics occur when new influenza viruses develop and spread quickly and few people have immunity to them.  Some pandemics are relatively mild, killing just a few million people globally.  The most severe flu pandemic on record was the 1918 Spanish Flu.  Researchers estimate it killed about 50 million people around the world.

Is there a vaccine against the swine flu from Mexico?There is no vaccine currently that exactly matches this swine flu.  Flu vaccines generally contain a dead or weakened form of the circulating virus.  The vaccine prepares the body's immune system to fend off true infections.  If the virus is sufficiently similar to circulating forms of flu that are included in the current vaccine they may offer some limited protection from swine flu.  Making a new flu vaccine can take three to six months.

Are there drugs that treat swine flu?Tamiflu and Relenza, the two common antiviral drugs, have some effect against swine flu.  Flu viruses however sometimes develop resistance to antiviral drugs.  There is no evidence yet of the anti-viral drugs' effectiveness with this particular swine flu strain.

How can I protect myself from swine flu?Personal hygiene measures, such as avoiding people who are coughing or sneezing, and frequent hand-washing, may prevent flu infection.  Avoid contact with sick people.  People who get sick with flu symptoms should say home.  Closing schools, theaters, and canceling gatherings may be measures that public health officials use to limit its spread.

Stay well.  Take care.