Are you concerned about the swine flu? Do you want to know more about it? The Doctors answer your most pressing questions about the virus.
The World Health Organization raised the pandemic influenza alert to a Phase 5, and the rising phase number has people concerned. The level, however, should not have you worried because its purpose is to help health officials implement the correct course of action to keep people protected. “What it does, is it helps officials with what they can do,” Dr. Lisa says, “with what those officials can start to do, and how they can act, so they can start working on vaccines and start to control it.”
Dr. Phil joins The Doctors to help explain how you should handle the swine flu. “Parents need to get reliable information,” he says. “Go to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Find out what these things mean. Find out what pandemic means. Find out what Level 5 means. This is not the same as terror alerts with Homeland Security.
“This can be a teachable moment with your children,” Dr. Phil continues. “Don’t panic your children. Don’t scare your children with, ‘My gosh, if you go outside of the house you’re going to die.’ We just simply don’t have that level of spread with this disease, at this point, that warrants that kind of sequestering yourself. I think we need to do the right thing, but let’s not panic.
“You can cause your children to really be fearful of the world,” he adds. “The chance of your child contracting swine flu by playing in the backyard is just pretty close to zero.”
The United States' acting Surgeon General, Rear Admiral Steven K. Galson, M.D., M.P.H., joins The Doctors to discuss the swine flu.
What the CDC Alert Levels Mean
• Phases 1-3: Predominantly animal infections. Few human infections.
• Phase 4: Sustained human to human transmission.
• Phase 5-6: Widespread human infection.
• Post Peak: Possibility of recurrent events.
• Post Pandemic: Disease activity at seasonal levels.
Should I Fear the Swine Flu?
As more cases of the swine flu emerge, the public’s mood is shifting from shock, to disbelief, to a state of panic around the world. “There’s no question, we were inundated with pandemic panic,” Dr. Ordon says. “I think we need to focus more on pandemic preparedness.”
With panic often comes fear, and Dr. Phil explains what people fear and how to stay calm. “There are a lot of people out there who have kind of a phobic adjustment to life,” Dr. Phil says. “They may be germ-phobics or whatever, and when something like this comes along, it’s like throwing gas on the fire, and that’s what you have to be concerned about.
“Here’s the deal,” he continues. “There’s a difference between rational fear, which is a fear reaction to a genuine, clear-and-present danger, and then there’s irrational fear, which is a disproportionate fear or a fear in the absence of a real, clear-and-present danger. I think what we’re seeing right now is there are a lot of people who, for example, are showing up at E.R.s without any symptoms. They’re just wanting to be screened. There are people just trying to hoard some of the medications, like Tamiflu and that sort of thing, and that’s irrational, that’s not something we need to be concerned about. But that doesn’t mean that people don’t need to take precautions.”
Precautions include simple ways of staying safe, such as wash your hands, stay home if you are sick, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and cover your mouth when you sneeze and cough. Wearing a mask to cover your mouth will help keep you from distributing the virus. “If you’re sick, wear the mask,” Dr. Phil says.
While some masks will not protect you from contracting the virus, 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.”
Catching the Swine Flu
An outbreak of the swine flu occurred at St.FrancisPreparatory School in New York, with more than 140 students suffering from symptoms such as coughing, aching, fever and upset stomachs. Some students had visited Mexico prior to the outbreak, but whether the two are related is unknown
Nicole, 14, is a freshman at St. Francis Prep, and she contracted the H1N1 influenza virus during the outbreak. “I got sick with a very bad sore throat, a fever and body aches,” she says. “I ended up going to the emergency room, and there, I was reunited with about 30 friends from my school. We all got tested by having tubes stuck up our noses and sucking out our mucus. I was told I had influenza type A, and two days later I received a call from the Department of Health confirming I had swine flu.
“I couldn’t really move,” she adds. “My throat was killing me, but it wasn’t red. My body hurt so bad, I stayed in my bed the whole time. I had such a bad fever; I had a 102 [-degree] fever.”
She was treated with Tamiflu, and after a couple of days began feeling better. “I feel 100 percent better, myself,” she says. “I got my attitude back and everything!”
Nicole asks The Doctors if she can contract the virus again, now that she has recovered from it.
“Now that you’ve gotten this swine flu, you’re going to be immune to this,” Dr. Jim says. “The problem is the next time there’s an outbreak, maybe a few years from now, maybe next year, this virus will have mutated, so nobody’s going to be immune to the next swine flu virus. So, you’re not going to get this virus again, but all flu viruses change.”
Will it Get Stronger During Flu Season?
Will it Get Stronger During Flu Season?
The typical flu season occurs during the cooler fall and winter months, and Shawna asks if the swine flu will become even stronger then.
“First of all, we don’t know how bad this may get this spring,” Dr. Travis says. “We’re assuming that as the summer months come, that maybe this virus is going to go into hiding like typical flu viruses. People don’t walk around in July with big-time flu infections.”
“The virus itself actually does not do well in hot weather,” says
University of Texas epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Murray. “It actually cannot be transmitted very effectively, person to person, in hot weather or high humidity.”
After the warm months, though, will the swine flu re-arise as a new, more vicious strand? “That’s the million-dollar question right now,” Dr. Murray says. “I think we have to be prepared as if it would. We just have to be ready.
“One thing that I really would like to say is how impressed I am with what’s happening locally, as well as with what’s happening nationally in terms of the response to this,” Dr. Murray adds. “We have spent so much money and years preparing response plans, and they’re working beautifully. I think it’s been a great test, if anything, and if it does come back in the fall, I think we’re ready.”
Breastfeeding and the Flu
Iris, 22, is a new mother and asks The Doctors if she gets the swine flu, will she pass it onto her 1-month-old through breastfeeding.
“If a mother that’s breastfeeding develops the flu, regular flu or swine flu, it’s actually very rare to pass the virus through the breast milk,” Dr. Jim says. “What you will pass through is antibodies, which will actually help the baby. If a mom gets sick, it’s actually good to keep breastfeeding.”
“You can sometimes pass viruses,” Dr. Lisa says. “We worry about this more with HIV. We don’t know how much with this virus. A lot of doctors will suggest that you not do the first morning feeding, and pump because there will be more of a load in there. If you’re sick, consult your doctor. As far as pregnant women, you shouldn’t go to any places that are hotbeds [for the virus] right now. It’s the same precautions as with the flu, as far as vaccines. Pregnant women can’t take live vaccines, but they should use the same precautions as with the flu.”
Is it Safe to Eat Pork?
Many people are concerned that they can contract the swine flu through eating pork. The Doctors, however, explain that eating pork products is perfectly safe as long as they are cooked and prepared as they usually would be, because cooking kills any bacteria that may be in the food. “It doesn’t get in the meat. It doesn’t get in the muscle,” Dr. Ordon says.
“The reason is, this virus is spread through the respiratory track,” Dr. Travis adds. “Pork is safe.”
Should I Take Tamiflu as a Preventative Measure?
“That’s the thing you don’t want to do,” Dr. Jim says. “Unless you are sick with the flu, you don’t want to take Tamiflu. A lot of people don’t realize that the seasonal flu is already quite resistant to Tamiflu, and it’s very reasonable to think the swine flu could mutate as well to gain resistance. And how is it going to do that? By people taking it unnecessarily. Don’t take it preventatively unless you’ve been exposed to someone with the swine flu, and you’re at high risk, and you know it.”