By Jennifer Krisch
As news spreads of confirmed swine flu cases in Mexico, the United States and Canada, many are wondering what swine flu is and how to prevent an infection. Martha Simpson, assistant professor of family medicine in the College of Osteopathic Medicine and president of University Medical Associates, provides some answers.
What is swine flu?
Swine flu is a sub-type of influenza type A, one of the more common influenza viruses.
How did it develop to infect humans?
Swine flu is generally only confined to pigs, but just as with any virus, it mutates. There have been outbreaks in the past where the virus has been transmitted from pigs to humans. This particular strain has now mutated to infect humans and to be spread human to human.
How is swine flu spread?
Swine flu is spread through direct contact or droplets and affects the respiratory system. It is spread through what we call "shedding" -- every time you cough, sneeze, talk -- you "shed" droplets. If someone coughs or sneezes on you, or if someone sneezes on a table and you put your hand on the table, and then you put that hand near your face, you could potentially become infected.
What are the symptoms of swine flu?
The symptoms are like any other influenza symptoms -- sudden onset, meaning you were fine one minute and suddenly feel very sick; a fever of more than 100 degrees, chills, body aches, cough and sometimes headaches.
Should you be experiencing all of these symptoms, not just one or two of them?
Generally, yes. It's not just a runny nose from a cold. There is no fever with a cold. The main things with flu are fever and sudden onset. You are OK one minute and then suddenly ill. You know you're really sick -- you know it's more than a cold.
What should you do if you think you are sick?
If you are experiencing these symptoms, get to your doctor. The doctor will do an influenza nasal swab to determine if there is influenza and what type. If the results come back Type A, the doctor will be sending the swab to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for sub-typing to determine whether it is the swine flu.
If the results are Type A, the doctor will prescribe antiviral treatment, regardless of whether it is swine flu or not. Results from the CDC may take up to 48 hours to obtain. Swine flu is responsive to two antiviral treatments -- Rellenza and Tamiflu. Both are regularly prescribed for cases of influenza.
What precautions can help prevent infection?
If you're sick, stay home from work or school. This also means stay home from the grocery store and other public places. Quarantine yourself, so to speak.
Limit contact with other family members, especially the elderly and small children, whose immune systems may not be as strong.
Avoid kissing and hugging situations and wash your hands thoroughly and regularly.