What is the swine flu?
The swine influenza A (H1N1) virus that has infected humans in the U.S. and Mexico is a novel influenza A virus that has not previously been identified in North America. This virus is resistant to the antiviral medications amantadine (Symmetrel) and rimantadine (Flumadine), but is sensitive to oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza). Investigations of these cases suggest that on-going human-to-human swine influenza A (H1N1) virus is occurring.
What are the symptoms of swine flu?
Although uncomplicated influenza-like illness (fever, cough or sore throat) has been reported in many cases, mild respiratory illness (nasal congestion, rhinorrhea) without fever and occasional severe disease also has been reported. Other symptoms reported with swine influenza A virus infection include vomiting, diarrhea, myalgia, headache, chills, fatigue, and dyspnea. Conjunctivitis is rare, but has been reported. Severe disease (pneumonia, respiratory failure) and fatal outcomes have been reported with swine influenza A virus infection. The potential for exacerbation of underlying chronic medical conditions or invasive bacterial infection with swine influenza A virus infection should be considered.
How can swine (H1N1) flu be prevented?
The best way to prevent swine flu would be the same best way to prevent other influenza infections, and that is vaccination. When a safe vaccine is developed (projected to happen in a few months), people should get vaccinated if the disease is still causing infections. The CDC says that a good way to prevent any flu disease is to avoid exposure to the virus; this is done by frequent hand washing, not touching your hands to your face (especially the nose and mouth), and avoiding any close proximity to or touching any person that may have flu symptoms. Since the virus can remain viable and infectious for about 48 hours on many surfaces, good hygiene and cleaning with soap and water or alcohol-based hand disinfectants are also recommended. Some physicians say face masks may help prevent getting airborne flu viruses (for example, from a cough or sneeze), but others think the better use for masks would be on those people who have symptoms and sneeze or cough. The use of Tamiflu or Relenza may help prevent the flu if taken before symptoms develop or reduce symptoms if taken within about 48 hours after symptoms develop. However, taking these drugs is not routinely recommended for prevention because investigators suggest that as occurs with most drugs, flu strains will develop resistance to these medications. Your doctor should be consulted before these drugs are prescribed.
In general, preventive measures to prevent the spread of flu are often undertaken by those people who have symptoms. Symptomatic people should stay at home, avoid crowds, and take off from work or school until the disease improves or medical help is sought. Sneezing, coughing, and nasal secretions need to be kept away from other people; simply using tissues and disposing of them will help others. Quarantining patients is usually not warranted, but such measures depend on the severity of the disease.
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