The leaves are changing and the temperature is dropping—you know what that means. Flu season. Chances are if you haven’t had swine flu this year, also known as H1N1, you probably know someone who has. This particular brand of flu has caused a bit of pandemonium for everyone from conspiracy theorists to elementary school parents. And for good reason; this is not your average flu. From 2005 until February of 2009, there were only twelve documented cases of swine flu. Currently, reports show that the rogue flu strain is considered widespread in all but nine states. Before you stop eating pork and barricade yourself indoors for the winter, let’s check the facts. There are a few things you should know about the swine flu, how you can prevent it and what you can do if it shows up in your home.
1. Swine flu is also known as H1N1 virus. The two are basically the same thing, however, H1N1 refers to a specific type-A influenza that is present in pigs. It’s actually one of four type-A flu viruses. Calling the virus “H1N1” prevents confusion with other strains of the virus. Plus, pig farmers were getting pretty mad a few months ago when their pork product sales plummeted after the initial outbreak. So, for sake of the livelihood of pig-farmers everywhere—it’s probably best to refer to the virus as “H1N1” and not so much swine flu.
2. You cannot catch H1N1 from eating pork. Swine flu is not transmitted by food consumption, so if you want to have sausage on your pizza, rest assured. Just make sure that, as with all meat, you cook it to an internal temperature of 160°F. That will kill any bacteria that might be in the meat.
3. H1N1 can be transmitted several ways. You can get H1N1 from contact with an infected pig, but unless you frequent petting zoos or live on a farm, you’re far more likely to acquire the flu from another human. Like other flu viruses, transmission of H1N1 passes from person to person through coughing, sneezing, sharing a coke—anything where your eyes, nose, or mouth comes in contact with an infected person’s germs.
4. Younger people are more likely to contract the virus. Most reported H1N1 cases have been victims from newborns to twenty-four years of age. Some have speculated that due to a minor presence of H1N1 in the 1950s, people older than sixty-five may have some immunity to the virus. While that could be true, it’s more likely that children are more susceptible because they spend all day in school together and they share everything- paper, cookies, boogies. Elementary school is like a cesspool of disease, so lather your kids up with sanitizer and talk to them about washing their hands with soap.
5. H1N1 symptoms are similar to normal flu symptoms but can cause further complications if left untreated. If you think you or a family member might have contracted H1N1, these are the symptoms to watch for: fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. Sounds pretty standard, but it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor for a definite diagnosis. Call your doctor immediately if you have difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, experience pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, experience sudden dizziness, confusion, severe or persistent vomiting, or if symptoms improve and return with fever and worse cough.
6. You don’t need to be a hero to survive swine flu. If you or your children are diagnosed with H1N1, don’t try to tough it out. See your doctor and get the necessary antibiotics. And please, do everyone a favor and stay home. Going to work or sending your kids to school will just expose others to the illness. Plan to be out of commission for about a week. Even if the kids say they are feeling better, the CDC recommends staying home for at least twenty-four hours after the fever is gone.
7. H1N1 is a mild illness for most healthy people. Most will recover with some rest and fluids, and a couple boxes of Thera-flu.
8. Vaccinations are available, but check with your doctor before vaccinating yourself or your children. It’s tempting to get everyone vaccinated, but because vaccinations are in high demand for at-risk groups, healthy people between 25-64 years of age are not recommended to receive vaccination at this point. Drink plenty of water and get some over the counter medication. You’ll be like new in a few days.
Vaccinations for H1N1 are newly developed, so those with severe allergic reactions or serious illness are urged to wait or not get the vaccine at all.
9. Here’s the good news—there are really simple steps you can take to protect your health and preventing an H1N1 virus intrusion in your home.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
- Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
10. For more information on H1N1, the vaccinations, or other tips to protecting your family:
- Ask your health care provider for the vaccine package insert or ask for suggestions on other sources of information.
- Call your local or state health department.
- Contact the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Visit the Flu Web site.
- If you’re one of the 4.4 million iPhone users be sure to download the Swine Flu app created by Harvard Medical School with real time updates, information on outbreaks and a symptom checker if you feel like you might be coming down with H1N1. There really is an app for everything.
By Sarah Nelson for Causecast.org