What is swine flu? What can you do to prevent it?

MEEKER — There has been a lot of media coverage over the recent outbreak of swine flu. First, it is important to remember there are no confirmed cases in Colorado. However, you may wonder, what is swine flu? What are the symptoms and what you can do to protect yourself?
“While there is significant effort under way, both nationally and at the state level, our best protection locally is common-sense prevention,” says Dr. Branch Bullard, Pioneers Medical Center’s chief of staff. “Hand washing continues to be the best prevention to spreading germs. Additionally, those who are sick should avoid, work or school. Early medical attention is helpful in controlling the severity of the illness, as well as minimizing the spread.”
What is swine flu? According to the Centers for Disease Control, swine influenza is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza viruses that causes regular outbreaks in pigs. People do not normally get swine flu, but human infections can and do happen. Swine flu viruses have been reported to spread from person-to-person, but in the past, this transmission was limited and not sustained beyond three people. Currently, in the United States, there are 40 confirmed cases of humans infected with swine flu.
What are the signs and symptoms of swine flu in people? The symptoms of swine flu in people are similar to the symptoms of regular human flu and include runny nose, possible fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting associated with swine flu. Like seasonal flu, swine flu may cause a worsening of underlying chronic medical conditions.
How does swine flu spread? Spread of this swine influenza virus is thought to be happening in the same way that seasonal flu spreads. Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing of people with influenza. Infected people may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to seven or more days after becoming sick. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.
If you have recently traveled to areas where there have been confirmed cases of swine flu, or you have been in close contact (within about six feet) of an ill person with a confirmed case of swine flu, and you have symptoms, seek medical attention.
What is the best way to keep from spreading the virus? If you are sick, limit your contact with other people as much as possible. Do not go to work or school if ill. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. And above all wash your hands. Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. Wash with soap and water. Or clean with alcohol-based hand cleaner. We recommend that when you wash your hands — with soap and warm water — that you wash for 15 to 20 seconds. When soap and water are not available, alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers may be used. You can find them in most supermarkets and drugstores. If using gel, rub your hands until the gel is dry. The gel doesn’t need water to work; the alcohol in it kills the germs on your hands.
Are there medicines to treat swine flu? Yes. The Centers for Disease Control recommends the use of oseltamivir or zanamivir (common flu medications) for the treatment and/or prevention of infection with these swine influenza viruses. Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines (pills, liquid or an inhaler) that fight against the flu by keeping flu viruses from reproducing in your body. If you get sick, antiviral drugs can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious flu complications. For treatment, antiviral drugs work best if started soon after getting sick (within two days of symptoms).
For more information about swine flu, call the Meeker Family Health Center at 878-4014 or visit http://www.