What you need to know about swine flu (Update)

Apr 27, 2009
A woman enters the General Hospital in Mexico City as masked workers monitor the hospital's entrance, Friday, April 24, 2009. Federal health authorities closed schools Friday across this metropolis of 20 million after at least 16 people have died and more than 900 others fell ill from what health officials suspect is a strain of swine flu new to Mexico. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

(AP) -- A never-before-seen strain of swine flu has turned killer in Mexico and is causing milder illness in the United States and elsewhere. While authorities say it's not time to panic, they are taking steps to stem the spread and also urging people to pay close attention to the latest health warnings and take their own precautions.

"Individuals have a key role to play," Dr. Richard Besser, acting chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Monday.

Here's what you need to know:

Q: How do I protect myself and my family?

A: For now, take commonsense precautions. Cover your coughs and sneezes, with a tissue that you throw away or by sneezing into your elbow rather than your hand. Wash hands frequently; if soap and water aren't available, hand gels can substitute. Stay home if you're sick and keep children home from school if they are.

Q: How easy is it to catch this ?

A: Scientists don't yet know if it takes fairly close or prolonged contact with someone who's sick, or if it's more easily spread. But in general, flu viruses spread through uncovered coughs and sneezes or - and this is important - by touching your mouth or nose with unwashed hands. Flu viruses can live on surfaces for several hours, like a doorknob just touched by someone who sneezed into his hand.

Q: In Mexico, officials are handing out face masks. Do I need one?

A: The CDC says there's not good evidence that masks really help outside of health care settings. It's safer just to avoid close contact with someone who's sick and avoid crowded gatherings in places where swine flu is known to be spreading. But if you can't do that, CDC guidelines say it's OK to consider a mask - just don't let it substitute for good precautions.

Q: Is swine flu treatable?

A: Yes, with the flu drugs or Relenza, but not with two older flu medications.

Q: Is there enough?

A: Yes. The federal government has stockpiled enough of the drugs to treat 50 million people, and many states have additional stocks. As a precaution, the CDC has shipped a quarter of that supply to the states to keep on hand just in case the virus starts spreading more than it has so far.

Q: Should I take Tamiflu as a precaution if I'm not sick yet?

A: No. "What are you going to do with it, use it when you get a sniffle?" asks Dr. Marc Siegel of New York University Langone Medical Center and author of "Bird Flu: Everything you Need To Know About The Next Pandemic." Overusing antiviral drugs can help germs become resistant to them.

Q: How big is my risk?

A: For most people, very low. Outside of Mexico, so far clusters of illnesses seem related to Mexican travel. New York City's cluster, for instance, consists of students and family members at one school where some students came back ill from spring break in Mexico.

Q: Why are people dying in Mexico and not here?

A: That's a mystery. First, understand that no one really knows just how many people in Mexico are dying of this flu strain, or how many have it. Only a fraction of the suspected deaths have been tested and confirmed as swine flu, and some initially suspected cases were caused by something else.

Q: Should I cancel my planned trip to Mexico?

A: The U.S. did issue a travel advisory Monday discouraging nonessential travel there.

Q: What else is the U.S., or anyone else, doing to try to stop this virus?

A: The U.S. is beginning limited screening of travelers from Mexico, so that the obviously sick can be sent for treatment. Other governments have issued their own travel warnings and restrictions. Mexico is taking the biggest steps, closings that limit most crowded gatherings. In the U.S., communities with clusters of illness also may limit contact - New York closed the affected school for a few days, for example - so stay tuned to hear if your area eventually is affected.

Q: What are the symptoms?

A: They're similar to regular human flu - a fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people also have diarrhea and vomiting.

Q: How do I know if I should see a doctor? Maybe my symptoms are from something else - like pollen?

A: Health authorities say if you live in places where swine flu cases have been confirmed, or you recently traveled to Mexico, and you have flulike symptoms, ask your doctor if you need treatment or to be tested. Allergies won't cause a fever. And run-of-the-mill stomach bugs won't be accompanied by respiratory symptoms, notes Dr. Wayne Reynolds of Newport News, Va., spokesman for the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Q: Is there a vaccine to prevent this new infection?

A: No. And CDC's initial testing suggests that last winter's flu shot didn't offer any cross-protection.

Q: How long would it take to produce a vaccine?

A: A few months. The CDC has created what's called "seed stock" of the new virus that manufacturers would need to start production. But the government hasn't yet decided if the outbreak is bad enough to order that.

Q: What is swine flu?

A: Pigs spread their own strains of influenza and every so often people catch one, usually after contact with the animals. This new strain is a mix of pig viruses with some human and bird viruses. Unlike more typical swine flu, it is spreading person-to-person. A 1976 outbreak of another unusual at Fort Dix, N.J., prompted a problematic mass vaccination campaign, but that time the flu fizzled out.

Q: So is it safe to eat pork?

A: Yes. viruses don't spread through food.

Q: And whatever happened to bird flu? Wasn't that supposed to be the next pandemic?

A: Specialists have long warned that the issue is a never-before-seen strain that people have little if any natural immunity to, regardless of whether it seems to originate from a bird or a pig. Bird flu hasn't gone away; scientists are tracking it, too.

---

On the Net:

U.S. government flu info: http://www.hhs.gov/web/library/index.html

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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User comments : 21

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Ashy
3.7 / 5 (3) Apr 25, 2009
Yes
5 / 5 (3) Apr 25, 2009
I travel about three times per month between DF, Costa Rica and the US. Actually at this moment I am sitting at 1 mile from the airport in DF in a hotel room.

I am what they call Caucasian and my wife is Latin American. About three weeks ago I became sick with flu. Not outside the regular though, but my wife. She also became sick and I thought she was dying.

So I am wondering if this swine flu is around for some weeks now and if it is a very hard disease especially for Latin American people.

roysc
5 / 5 (1) Apr 26, 2009
You may also want to read this:
http://bit.ly/vaC5
JamieK
5 / 5 (1) Apr 26, 2009
I think they should seriously think about implementing some more effective ways to contain this from the public.
I read (http://www.swinefluworld.com) that Mexico may be thinking of an entire lockdown.
JamieK
not rated yet Apr 26, 2009
I read the same on http://www.swinefluworld.com but I dont think its a COMPLETE lock down...
Alexa
3 / 5 (2) Apr 27, 2009
Something strange is here... Wasn't swine flu "assisted"?

http://www.dddmag...609.aspx

http://www.shangh...8946.htm

http://www.google...DAQ:NVAX
Slotin
2.3 / 5 (6) Apr 27, 2009
Here are a list evidence pointing to the distinct possibility that this indeed was man made and not naturally occurring.

1st: The Suddenness of the Outbreak

2nd: The speedy news coverage

3rd: The very recent mysterious disappearance of 3 viral containing vials from a Top Security Lab.

4th: The unimpeded ease in which the infection spreads almost as if it was constructed to do so

5th: The overwhelming reaction by the governments around the world to this latest outbreak. Do they know something we don't?

6th: A never before seen flu that is a hybrid mix of Bird, Human, and Pig viral strains

7th That not one major or minor from what I have seen has even brought up the question yet if this is possibly a result of a man made bio-weapon

8th: The readiness of certain pharmaceutical companies offering to make a vaccine and to sell us viral fighting drugs. Isn't that sweet of them that they are willing to make an absolute fortune fighting something they might have constructed in the first place. If people haven't figured it out by now know it is not in their best interests to keep people healthy but on the margins between death and vibrancy.

9th: A flu that is completely out of season when most people's immune systems are not compromised.

10th: Travelers going back home are experiencing less severe symptoms indicating that the virus is mutating quickly. This shows that the virus is unstable yet another piece of the puzzle pointing to the probability this is not a naturally occurring virus.

Slotin
4 / 5 (4) Apr 27, 2009
Flu zombies reported in Mexico City

http://www.thespo...s3i52019
DGBEACH
4 / 5 (1) Apr 27, 2009
Flu zombies reported in Mexico City


Pretty funny slotin, but perhaps a tad insensitive at this moment. We still don't know how bad this will get.
Icester
5 / 5 (2) Apr 27, 2009
Time to rewatch "Outbreak"....
tthb
5 / 5 (1) Apr 27, 2009
That's funny, still up... Christians?
superhuman
3.2 / 5 (5) Apr 27, 2009
Here are a list evidence pointing to the distinct possibility that this indeed was man made and not naturally occurring.
1st: The Suddenness of the Outbreak

Never heard of sudden natural disease outbreaks?
2nd: The speedy news coverage

Seriously what this have to do with it? Do you suggest news agencies made it?
3rd: The very recent mysterious disappearance of 3 viral containing vials from a Top Security Lab.

Area 51?
4th: The unimpeded ease in which the infection spreads almost as if it was constructed to do so

Because natural infections have trouble with spreading, you are overestimating our capabilities in this regard and underestimating nature.
5th: The overwhelming reaction by the governments around the world to this latest outbreak. Do they know something we don't?

Seriously. This is a good thing.
6th: A never before seen flu that is a hybrid mix of Bird, Human, and Pig viral strains

It's not unusual for viruses to mix genetic material, also it is to be expected that strains with novel properties have a novel mix of genetic material
7th That not one major or minor from what I have seen has even brought up the question yet if this is possibly a result of a man made bio-weapon

It is not a suitable bioweapon so it doesn't make much sense.
8th: The readiness of certain pharmaceutical companies offering to make a vaccine and to sell us viral fighting drugs.

There is money to be made, they would be stupid to not be willing to sell their products, especially now.
9th: A flu that is completely out of season when most people's immune systems are not compromised.

That there is statistically more infections in some seasons does not mean flu can't spread all year round.
Travelers going back home are experiencing less severe symptoms indicating that the virus is mutating quickly. This shows that the virus is unstable yet another piece of the puzzle pointing to the probability this is not a naturally occurring virus.

This makes absolutely no sense, no virus is "stable."
Bob_Kob
3 / 5 (2) Apr 27, 2009
My name is Robert Neville - I am broadcasting on all AM frequencies...
earls
5 / 5 (2) Apr 27, 2009
I'll be sure to wear a condom.
el_gramador
5 / 5 (2) Apr 28, 2009
Just don't sneeze on it beforehand.
romfeo
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 28, 2009
Some say that all this commotion is a conspiracy orchestrated by ROCHE to sell Tamiflu....

Read this
http://www.blogon...tamiflu/
googleplex
not rated yet Apr 28, 2009
The deaths occurred in people of middle age. Normally these people have the strongest immune systems. Whereas elderly/young people with weak immune systems all survived.
This is contrary to the normal virul mortality. When pneumonia kicks in did an auto-immune response get triggered?
Then again perhaps the people who died unknowingly had AIDS.
Either way something does not add up when you have everyone in the US reporting it as a mild flu. But them mysteriously dying in Mexico.
I would tend to thing if this virus got specialized to infect pigs/birds/fly's then it should be weaker in the human host. This is why we create vaccines using chicken eggs, because the virus becomes specialised to chickens and weakens for humans.
IMHO the virus is a mild flu and the deaths came from a pre-existing condition. Otherwise the US CDC would ramp up the alert level. This is not Asian Bird Flu.
superhuman
not rated yet Apr 29, 2009
There are small but significant differences between genetic makeup of various races and those differences may play a role in progression of diseases.

For example in Mexico many people may have a different version of some protein used by the virus during the infection. This protein may for example better bind viral molecules making it easier for the virus to bind to and penetrate cell membranes. As a result this particular virus will be more deadly in Mexico then in other regions where this particular version of the protein is rare.
JayTinkerton
not rated yet Apr 29, 2009
Air quality in Mexico City is known to be terrible. Not sure what role that may play? Keeping up with CDC and WHO updates here:

http://www.virusrecovery.net
Yes
4 / 5 (1) May 01, 2009
When does the stockpiled Tamiflu once produced for H5N1 threat reaches end of shelf life? We need to sell it right?

Even so I think this flu was not engineered.
CHi
not rated yet May 08, 2009
The Dangers of Anti-Swine Flu Medications
Read this... http://jaggedpage...cations/

This is so alarming.