With swine flu cases continuing to emerge throughout the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recently elevated the outbreak to a Phase 5 pandemic alert, and the United States government has declared a public health emergency. People are fearful and wondering: How contagious is this new strain? Will this flu cause a deadly pandemic? Should they stop eating pork? Should parents keep their children home from school? And what can they do to minimize their risks of catching this flu? The Doctors, along with Dr. Joe Bresee, Chief, Epidemiology and Prevention Branch, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Influenza Division and Dr. William Schaffner, infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt Medical Center, explain everything you need to know to stay safe from the swine flu. What are symptoms of the swine flu? If you had swine flu, can you get it again?
What is swine flu?
• Known as the 2009 H1N1 virus.
• Typically a respiratory virus in pigs that usually doesn’t cross from pigs to humans.
• Passed from pigs to humans, and now is passed from human to human.
• Similar to the influenza virus that spreads every year in America.
“You can’t panic out there,” Dr. Travis stresses. “In a typical year, 36,000 is the average death count, here in America, from the flu.” Many of these deaths occur in the elderly, people with compromised immune systems and young children. “Most people who have come down with this swine flu end up being just fine.”
Watch how influenza attacks the body.
The symptoms are similar to the seasonal flu:
• Runny nose
• Sore throat
• Dry cough
• Loss of appetite
Arianna from New York has been tested for the swine flu and was quarantined in her home. “I started having a bad headache, and it was hard for me to breathe, and I was coughing,” she recalls of the onset of her symptoms. She then developed a fever of 103. Her mother took her to the hospital where she threw up and fainted. “That day was the worst day.” She took Tamiflu and recovered quickly.
What should you do if you come down with symptoms?
• Call your doctor within the first 48 hours. He or she can prescribe a treatment which can shorten the course of the illness and make it milder.
• Don’t go to the hospital or doctor’s office and risk spreading the virus.
• If you’re sick, stay at home.
“By going directly to the hospital, by going directly to school, you’re just going to infect greater and greater populations,” Dr. Travis warns. “That’s everyone’s personal responsibility, and that’s how we can prevent this from spreading.”
Should you visit the E.R.?
• “The last thing we need is anyone who has the sniffles rushing off to the emergency department, because the emergency department is there for a reason, for emergencies,” Dr. Travis says. “There’s no need for anyone at home to be scared right now, just be aware of what’s going on.”
What are the treatments?
• There are two medications that work to heal you: Tamiflu and Relenza. These are antiviral drugs and are extremely affective in reducing the duration and severity of the disease. The medications are most effective when taken within 48 hours of the start of flu symptoms. Symptoms often resolve in 24 hours.
• Many people in the U.S. have recovered without treatment.
Don’t call your doctor for a prescription as a precautionary measure. “We call it the panic prescriptions,” Dr. Jim says. “First of all, it’s a waste of money. If you take the medication without even being sick, you’re going to have to deal with the side effects: nausea and vomiting.”
“The medications are there for the people who are at risk,” Dr. Ordon adds, healthcare professionals, people who work in airports or at borders.
Is there enough antiviral medication to go around?
• The government has a federal stockpile of 50 million treatments, and at the moment, they’ve released 25 percent of their supply to states. Hospitals and pharmacies also have smaller stockpiles.
“The last thing we need are certain individuals hoarding our supply of antivirals,” Dr. Travis says.
How contagious is the swine flu?
• It’s a new flu, but it’s about as contagious as the seasonal flu.
• It can be spread relatively easily by the respiratory route if you’re in close contact with someone.
• It can be spread up to a day before the person exhibits symptoms, and up to seven days after showing symptoms.
“There are a lot of people who can spread this virus without even knowing they have the flu,” Dr. Travis says.
How can you reduce your risk of catching it?
• Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for 20 seconds.
• Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
• Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing and coughing, or cough into the crook of your arm.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
• Keep your distance from people who are coughing and sneezing or you suspect are infected.
• Stay at home when you’re sick.
What should parents know if their child gets sick?
• Every fever is not going to be the swine flu.
• Get your child checked by a pediatrician if he or she has flu-like symptoms.
• Schools are shutting down if there’s concern of a case.
• Don’t panic.
• Be informed.
“In California alone, there are more than six million kids in schools, and just a few dozen are affected by this so far,” Dr. Jim points out. “The numbers are very, very small.”
Are pregnant women at higher risk for the swine flu?
• Yes, because their immune system is supporting two people.
• If you are pregnant and fear you may be sick, talk to your physician to decide the best course of treatment.
Dr. Lisa explains that Tamiflu and Relenza are Category C drugs, meaning that they haven’t been proven to cause birth defects in humans but some defects in animals. “That’s why we have to weigh the risks versus the benefits,” she says.
Should you wear a mask?
• If you’re coming down with flu-like symptoms and want to protect your family members, it’s a good idea to wear a mask. It will help prevent you from transmitting the sickness.
• If you want to protect yourself from getting the flu, you can buy an N95 mask, usually available at pharmacies. You wear it over your nose and mouth, and it keeps out 95 percent of particles. It’s the same mask Dr. Travis wears in the E.R.
“These are affective in most scenarios,” Dr. Travis says. “You’re never going to stop every droplet.”
Should you avoid traveling?
“I think it’s really important in this scenario to avoid all non-essential trips to Mexico,” Dr. Travis says.
• Stay informed.
• Check updates from the CDC and WHO.
• Take it on a day-by-day basis.
• Monitor the local situation where you will be traveling, follow local public health guidelines.
• Be cautious of your means of travel.
Michelle, a producer for The Doctors, has a trip planned to Mexico. After visiting her doctor for advice, will she decide to go? Tune in to the show Tuesday to find out if she boards the plane.
For more travel guidelines from the CDC, click here.
• Once you have it, you should be immune from contracting it again.
When did the first case occur?
• Patient Zero is a 5-year-old boy in Mexico who has completely recovered from the virus.
How many cases have been reported in the United States?
• There have been more than 100 cases reported in the U.S., everywhere from New York to California. So far, the infections have been relatively mild.
Is the outbreak going to get worse before it gets better?
• There will be additional cases.
• The virus may die off during summer, but reappear in winter.
• Don’t be surprised if there are deaths or hospitalizations.
What does a Phase 5 pandemic mean?
• The World Health Organization's pandemic alert system has six phases, where Phase 6 means a flu pandemic is under way. A Phase 5 alert signifies that a pandemic could soon happen.
What has the CDC done to combat the virus?
• Teams go into the field and rapidly try to collect data and information about the virus, to help prevent the disease.
• Training for the emergence of the influenza viruses for years.
Is there a vaccine for the swine flu virus?
• The flu vaccine given during the winter is ineffective against this strain.
• The CDC has started working on a vaccine.
Tune in to The Doctors on Tuesday, when they answer your most pressing questions about swine flu.
What are symptoms of the swine flu? If you had swine flu, can you get it again?
If you had swine flu, can you get it again?