How to Stay Healthy During the Influenza A (H1N1) Pandemic

The recent outbreak of swine-origin influenza Virus A (also termed H1N1), or more commonly known as "swine flu," has many people concerned about their health. These concerns are justified, but need to be placed into perspective to avoid a social panic that will not benefit anyone. Swine flu is a respiratory disease found in pigs caused by Type A flu virus. It is contagious the same way any other known influenza virus is transmitted, which includes person-to-person contact via coughing and sneezing. Swine flu cannot be transmitted by eating or handling pork, and properly cooked pork is safe to be consumed. Also, as with any influenza outbreak, people with underlying medical conditions such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, poorly controlled diabetes and similar clinical conditions are likely more susceptible to acquiring swine flu if they come into contact with the virus. It is essential to remember that for anyone, regardless of their health status, the only way to get swine flu is by coming into contact with a person actively infected with a confirmed case of H1N1. In this article I will help you to understand how to prevent swine flu, review the symptoms of infection and examine prevention/treatment interventions that are effective and available.

The basics of infection are simple and you already know them; however, it may be a good time for you to sit down with your family and review them:
  • Eat a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables.
  • Keep yourself hydrated by drinking enough water.
  • Get adequate rest and exercise to help your immune system function properly.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or one of the many over-the-counter hand sanitizers. Hands should always be washed after using the bathroom, eating, sneezing, coughing or touching any object that may be contaminated with significant bacteria or viruses. A simple-to-follow-rule is that if you have any doubt about whether or not you should be washing your hands, then you should indeed be washing them!
  • If you develop cold-like symptoms, even mild ones, it is best to stay home from work, school and social events for the time being. Your cold symptoms will more likely be the “common cold” that will typically respond to your usual self-care interventions. However, if they worsen you should contact your medical provider immediately.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also suggest that anyone who is strongly suspected of having contracted swine flu be asked to wear a disposable face mask to prevent possible transmission to others.
Know the signs and symptoms of swine flu in order to protect yourself and your family. Remember that swine flu presents itself like virtually any other flu-like syndrome, so while it is prudent to be cautious, the odds of you not coming into contract with someone with cold-like or allergy symptoms this time of year are fairly remote--so please do not overreact. Remember, the only way to get infected with swine flu is to come into contact with someone who has a confirmed case of the virus or by touching a swine flu virus-contaminated object.

The basic symptoms of swine flu include: fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Diarrhea and vomiting have also been reported, but to a lesser extent.

Since it's not yet known how easily swine flu is transmitted between people, it may be wise to avoid close contact with people who are displaying flu-like symptoms; however, it may not be necessary to isolate yourself from an ill individual if you feel well and are taking the precautions listed in Step 1. While not yet the standard of care, the ill person might provide you with a level of protection if they wear a disposable mask covering their nose and mouth while in your presence.

If you have come into contact with a person suspected of having or confirmed with swine flu there are two drugs that can be taken to prevent you from becoming infected with the virus or to lessen the severity of the disease. Currently only two out of the five anti-viral flu drugs are effective against swine flu. The two effective medications are: Oseltamivir (brand name Tamiflu ®) to prevent and treat in people 1 year of age or older and Zanamivir (brand name Relenza ®) is approved to treat people 7 years and older and to prevent Influenza A and B virus infection in people 5 years and older. Currently, there are health authorities testing other medications, but as of now only Tamiflu and Relenza are known to help with swine flu infection. Generally, treatment for swine flu is a 5-day course of therapy and 10 days are required for prevention control. It is also important to note that these drugs are not in short supply or difficult to manufacture. There is no reason to stock pile drugs or panic.

Stay informed. The science and knowledge of swine flu infection and treatment is rapidly evolving on a daily basis, which is normal when there is a flu breakout. Newly developed information should not be considered a concern or reason to panic. It should be viewed as scientific advancement; the health care community is learning more about this emerging infection.

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