While there have been a number of outbreaks of the new strain of swine flu, there also have emerged a whole gamut of misinformation. Now, scientists have elaborated exactly what one needs to know about this new epidemic.
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, has answered some questions regarding swine flu, which are as follows:
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 for swine flu are similar to the seasonal flu we are vaccinated for each year, which may include, fever, sore throat, cough, stuffy nose, chills, headache and body aches, fatigue.
2. Is there medication for this?
Yes, Tamiflu or Relenza have shown to be effective against these recently reported strains of swine flu. Altogether, there are four anti-viral drugs that we commonly use to treat various strains of flu.
3. Is there a vaccine?
Not yet, but the CDC has this current strain of virus and will consider whether to add it to next year's flu vaccine as time goes on.
4. Can I catch it from pigs?
No. This strain is one that is communicable through human-to-human contact. It is a mutated form of a swine virus.
5. Can I catch it from eating pork?
Absolutely not! Swine flu is not transmitted by food. It is not a so-called foodborne illness. Bacon, ham and other pork products are safe to eat, assuming they are prepared properly. An internal temperature of 160 degrees for cooked meat will kill any bacteria or virus.
Swine flu is transmitted by airborne droplets from an infected person's sneeze or cough; or from germs on hands, or germ-laden surfaces. Eating pork will not give you swine flu any more than eating chicken will give you bird flu.
6. How does it cross from a pig to a human?
The swine virus mutates so that it can infect humans and be spread by humans.
7. Can it kill me?
Deaths have been reported from the Mexico City outbreak. So far the cases in the US have been mild and there have been no deaths as yet. But, like seasonal flu, there is the potential for serious outcomes.
8. How is it different from avian (bird) flu?
Avian flu so far has had difficulty infecting humans unless they are exposed intensely to birds, because the virus has not mutated in a way that makes it transmissible by humans to other humans. This virus has origins genetically from both pigs and birds, and the big difference from the avian flu is that this swine virus can be transmitted readily from human to human.
9. What if I'm on a plane? Should I wear a mask?
Not necessary. The air on a plane is filtered. Transmission might occur if someone sitting close to you coughs or sneezes on you. The newer designs of aircraft airflow keep the air in a top-down flow, not forced air from front to back. However, if you do have a respiratory illness, it might be best not to travel.
10. Other than hand washing and covering my mouth if I sneeze or cough, 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, who can call in a prescription for medication to treat the flu. Resist going to the doctor's office or a hospital ER for influenza symptoms unless you are seriously ill. You do not want to spread the disease to others.
"There is a huge difference between preparedness and paranoia. Although we're dealing with a new strain of flu, a set of universally applicable preventive measures exist that can be employed right away by everyone to help stop the spread of this disease," said Dr. Robert Emery, occupational health expert at the UT School of Public Health at Houston.