There has been a lot of coverage in the media about swine flu, but there is still a lot of confusion about what it is and whether or not we should be worried. Rest assured that Utah Valley Pediatrics is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local public health officials to stay up-to-date on the latest recommendations and to provide the best care available to your child.
To help you understand the virus better, we have compiled the following answers to some common questions about swine flu.
What is Swine Flu?
Originally the virus was called swine flu because it contained genes that were similar to influenza viruses that affect pigs. However, more recent studies have shown that the virus is in fact a combination of flu viruses that affect pigs, birds, and humans. The virus is now more commonly called H1N1.
H1N1 is much like the common seasonal flu. However because it is a new flu strain nobody has a preexisting immunity to it and previously received flu shots can’t offer protection. Like the common flu, symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue, and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting. Only a medical professional can tell the difference between swine flu and the common flu.
Why all the Buzz?
Although the virus has proven very treatable with existing drugs and less severe than the seasonal flu in most cases, health officials are taking extra precautions for the following reasons:
-The strain is very new and researchers are still working on understanding the virus better. Until it is better understood, health officials want to be extra careful.
-Influenza viruses can be somewhat unpredictable and can mutate rapidly. It is still not known how severe the virus will be in the general population.
-The virus has caused outbreaks in multiple countries in different parts of the world and can pass easily from person to person.
Is it Time to Panic?
Not really. Governments and health officials are responding aggressively in order to limit the effect of the virus and help those who are sick. The phase 5 pandemic alert issued by the World Health Organization is not a signal to panic, but an important step to make sure countries are well prepared in case something small becomes something bigger. It has been over a century since a flu pandemic was serious enough to affect millions of people. Thanks to research and experience, we are far better prepared for a flu pandemic than we have ever been.
What Can I Do to Protect My Family?
Swine flu is spread like other flu viruses. When an infected person coughs or sneezes infected droplets are released into the air or they land on other surfaces. Breathing in the droplets or touching infected surfaces can then infect another person. Following simple cold and flu etiquette can go a long way to protecting you and your family.
The CDC recommends the following precautions.
-Use a tissue to cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough and then throw the tissue in the garbage. If you don’t have a tissue, use your upper sleeve, not your hands.
-After coughing or sneezing be sure to wash your hands with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand cleaner.
-Try to avoid touching your mouth, nose or eyes.
-If your child is sick, keep her home from daycare or school and limit contact with others. Children should stay home 10 days after the beginning of the illness.
Extra care should be taken with children with chronic medical conditions, pregnant women, and infants as they are more vulnerable to complications resulting from the flu virus.
However, there is no reason to worry about eating pork. Research has shown that you can’t get swine flu from eating pork, so it is safe to eat properly cooked pork.
When Should I Call My Doctor?
If you live in an area where swine influenza cases have been identified and your child has flu-like symptoms you are worried about, contact your doctor to determine if testing or treatment is needed. You should also call your doctor if you have been to Mexico recently and have flu-like symptoms.
Children with any of the below symptoms need immediate medical attention:
-Trouble breathing or fast breathing
-Not drinking enough fluids
-Very sleepy or lethargic
-So irritable they don’t want to be held
-Fever with a rash
-Flu-like symptoms improve, then return with fever and a worse cough