By Melissa Breyer, Senior Editor, Healthy & Green Living
There’ a new flu in town. I personally think the media can do an excellent job of scaring the daylights out of people with something like this–from the looks of the newspapers you’d think this was some deadly apocalyptic pandemic worthy of the big screen and an action hero. That said, this particular flu does have its troublesome aspects. It may not affect people any more severely than the common seasonal flu does–and we don’t go into media overdrive about the common seasonal flu even though around 36,000 people in the US die from flu-related causes every year. But what worries officials is that a new strain of the flu virus–especially one that has leapt from animals to humans–can spread quickly because people do not have natural immunity. The geographical spread of multiple community outbreaks, plus the somewhat unusual age groups affected, are matters of concern to officials.
About the new flu. Swine flu, is a contagious respiratory disease that affects pigs. It is caused by a type-A influenza virus. Outbreaks in pigs occur year-round–the most common version is H1N1. The current strain is a new variation of an H1N1 virus, which is a mix of human and animal versions. While the virus causes regular outbreaks in pigs, people usually are not struck by swine flu unless they have been in close contact with infected pigs. In general, it doesn’t spread from people to people, which this strain seems to be doing.
Symptoms of swine flu in people. The symptoms of swine flu in people are similar to the symptoms of regular human flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, runny nose, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting associated with swine flu. In the past, severe illness (pneumonia and respiratory failure) and deaths have been reported with swine flu infection in people. Like seasonal flu, swine flu may cause a worsening of underlying chronic medical conditions.
Next: Emergency warning signs and flu prevention
If you become ill and experience any of the following warning signs, seek emergency medical care.
In children, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:
• Fast breathing or trouble breathing
• Bluish skin color
• Not drinking enough fluids
• Not waking up or not interacting
• Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
• Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
• Fever with a rash
In adults, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:
• Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
• Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
• Sudden dizziness
• Severe or persistent vomiting
Prevention. There are every day habits to prevent yourself from catching swine flu, and for keeping other contagious illnesses away as well. Influenza is thought to spread mainly person-to-person through coughing or sneezing of infected people.
• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
• Some viruses and bacteria can live two hours or longer on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs, and desks–frequent handwashing will help you reduce the chance of getting contamination from these common surfaces.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.
• Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
• Try to stay in good general health: Get plenty of sleep; be physically active; manage your stress; drink plenty of fluids; and eat nutritious food.
Read more from the Care2 Swine Flu Project here: