Swine Influenza (swine flu) is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza viruses. Outbreaks of swine flu happen regularly in pigs. People do not normally get swine flu, but human infections can and do happen. Most commonly, human cases of swine flu happen in people who are around pigs but it’s possible for swine flu viruses to spread from person to person also. If it spreads at a fast enough rate, it can turn into a flu pandemic.
The symptoms are similar to that of the familiar seasonal flu, but what makes a pandemic flu virus dangerous is that it can mutate as it spreads, making it difficult to treat. Everyday life would be disrupted because so many people in so many places become seriously ill at the same time. Impacts can range from school and business closings to the interruption of basic services such as public transportation and food delivery. The following steps will help you prepare for the worst case scenario.
- Know what the signs of swine flu are in people. The symptoms look a lot like an ordinary flu and include fever (greater than 100°F or 37.8°C), cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. It is reported that diarrhea and vomiting can also be included with the symptoms of illness. There’s no way to tell if you have the swine flu unless a respiratory specimen is taken within the first 4-5 days and sent to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (or equivalent).
- Make sure you are in good health. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food. The healthier you are, the better your immune system will be at defending your body against a virus.
- Practice good hygiene. If you sneeze, keep a disposable tissue before your mouth, after sneezing or blowing your nose and throw the tissue away. Wash your hands often, especially if after blowing/sneezing and before you eat. Use a disinfectant when possible or just use soap and water.
- Don’t share utensils or drinks. In cafeteria settings, it’s not uncommon for people to casually share utensils or take a sip from someone else’s drink. This should be completely avoided if there is any risk of a flu pandemic.
- Wear a facemask or respirator as instructed by authorities. If used correctly, facemasks and respirators may help prevent some exposure to flu viruses. However, facemasks should be used along with other preventive measures, such as frequent hand washing.
If a pandemic flu virus spreads rapidly, being prepared to stay at home will help slow down the virus because you’ll minimize your exposure (and other people’s exposure to you, if you become sick).
- Know what to expect.
- A vaccine for pandemic flu may not be available for 4-6 months after a pandemic starts, and even then, it may only be available in limited amounts.
- People will have little or no immunity to pandemic flu since it is a new virus to humans. With seasonal flu, people have some immunity built up from previous exposure to the viruses.
- Symptoms of pandemic flu may be more severe than seasonal flu. More people are likely to die from pandemic flu than from seasonal flu.
- If you got a swine flu vaccine in the 70s, don’t expect it to protect you from this new strain.
- Stock up. Store nonperishable foods, bottled water, over-the-counter drugs, health supplies, and other necessities. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends having a 2-week supply. (These supplies can be useful in other types of emergencies, such as power outages.) Have basic, over-the-counter health supplies such as a thermometer, facemasks, tissues, soap, hand sanitizers, medicine to relieve fever, and cold medicine.
- Plan ahead. Plan for what you will do in the following cases:
- Schools dismissed: Consider childcare needs. Plan home learning activities and exercises. Have materials, such as books, on hand. Also plan recreational activities that your children can do at home.
- You or family member becomes sick and requires care: Make plans for how to care for people with special needs in case the services they rely on are not available. Plan to stay home for at least 10 days when you are sick with pandemic flu. Staying home will keep you from giving it to others. Make sure others in your household also stay home when they are sick. During a severe pandemic, stay home if someone in your household is sick with pandemic flu.
- Transportation networks disrupted. Think about how you can rely less on public transportation during a pandemic. For example, store food and other essential supplies so you can make fewer trips to the store. Prepare backup plans for taking care of loved ones who are far away. Consider other ways to get to work, or, if you can, work at home.
- Talk to your employer. Ask your employer about how business will continue during a pandemic. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services offers a Business Pandemic Influenza Planning Checklist; or you can Develop a Risk Management Plan that accounts for the possibility of a flu pandemic. Find out if you can work from home, or if your employer will consider virtualizing the workforce. Plan for the possible reduction or loss of income if you are unable to work or your place of employment is closed. Check with your employer or union about leave policies.
- Stay updated. Identify sources you can count on for reliable information. If a pandemic occurs, having accurate and reliable information will be critical.
- Reliable, accurate, and timely information is available at http://www.pandemicflu.gov.
- Another source for information on pandemic influenza is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Hotline at: 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636). This line is available in English and Spanish, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. TTY: 1-888-232-6348. If you do not live in the U.S., check if there is an equivalent hotline in your area.
- Look for information on your local and state government Web sites. Review your state’s planning efforts and those of your local public health and emergency preparedness officials.
- Listen to local and national radio, watch news reports on television, and read your newspaper and other sources of printed and Web-based information.
- In most cases swine flu patients should stay home. Do not go to the hospital or doctor, or else you might spread the virus to other patients.
- On the other hand do seek emergency care as quickly as possible if you are :
- exceptionally ill with flu-like symptoms
- are chronically ill
- is/have a very young child, under age 2
- On the other hand do seek emergency care as quickly as possible if you are :
- Call your doctor first, explain that you think you might have the swine flu, and follow any instructions.
- Get plenty of rest, and wait it out, the flu should pass in about 10 days.
- Be aware of life-threatening complications which might develop. If you get any of these you should get emergency medical care. Emergency warning signs in adults are:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe or persistent vomiting
Emergency warning signs in children are:
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Bluish skin color
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Not waking up or interacting
- Being very irritable
- Fever with a rash
- Avoid traveling to an affected area. If you do, however, avoid contact with live poultry and wild birds, don’t go to live animal markets and poultry farms, avoid contact with surfaces contaminated with animal droppings/faeces, and maintain preventative hygiene as instructed above. People who have recently visited Mexico, California or Texas and are experiencing influenza-like symptoms, or have been in contact with sick persons from these areas, should contact their health care provider. Be sure to specify that you recently traveled.
- Note that swine flu is transmitted from person-to-person, not from food.
- Don’t confuse swine flu with avian (bird) flu. Unlike avian flu, swine flu has proven to be highly contagious between humans.
Sources and Citations
- USA Center for Disease Control: Swine Flu and You
- http://www.pandemicflu.gov/ – Official U.S. Government Web site managed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, content in the public domain.
- ? 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 http://blogs.discovery.com/news_animal/2009/04/health-experts-answer-swine-flu-questions.html
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