Swine flu Q&A

Monday, April 27, 2009 | 9:45 p.m. CDT

What is swine flu?

Swine influenza — or swine flu — is a respiratory virus passed between pigs. The virus often makes pigs ill but is rarely deadly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. Humans do not normally contract swine flu, but past infections have occurred, especially among those who have direct exposure to pigs. Between December 2005 and February 2009, the CDC documented 12 cases of swine flu in humans in the US.

In late March and early April this year, several cases of swine flu were reported in Mexico, southern California and San Antonio, Texas. As additional cases were reported, fears of a widespread outbreak increased. The director-general of the World Health Organization increased the influenza pandemic alert level on Monday.

How does swine flu spread?

Swine flu is contagious and spreads from human to human, according to the CDC. Regular flu virus spreads from person to person through coughing or sneezing by people with the virus, and swine flu is believed to spread in a similar manner. It is currently not known how easily swine flu spreads between people. The virus can infect others, beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to seven or more days after becoming sick, according to the CDC.

What geographic areas are currently affected by swine flu?

Mexico is reporting the highest volume of swine flu cases, with an estimated 2,000 infections. While the WHO currently estimates 26 people died from swine flu in Mexico, news organizations are placing the unconfirmed death toll at 149. Canada has reported six cases of swine flu with no deaths, while Spain has reported one case with no deaths, according to the WHO.

Forty cases of swine flu have been confirmed in the United States – one in Ohio, two in Kansas, two in Texas, seven in California and 28 in New York City. None of the infections in the US have been fatal. Missouri currently has no confirmed cases of swine flu, according to a news release from Gov. Jay Nixon.

What is Missouri doing to prepare for swine flu?

Missouri officials have enough antiviral medications to treat more than 600,000 cases of swine flue, according to Nixon’s news release. Nixon has also asked state health officials to request medical supplies from the federal government. Among the supplies are additional doses of antiviral medication, surgical masks to limit the spread of infection and “enhanced medical masks” for health care workers and those with heightened risk for exposure.

What is Boone County doing to prepare for swine flu?

The Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services has increased its monitoring of flu cases in Boone County, according to Genalee Alexander, the department's public information officer. Health care providers typically submit weekly reports on a variety of different infections, but the department has requested daily reports on flu cases in order to track infections, Alexander said.

Can I get swine flu from eating pork?

Bacon lovers, rejoice. Swine flu is not spread through preparing or eating pork or pork products, according to the CDC. Cooking pork to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit kills bacteria and viruses, including swine flu.

What can I do to prevent swine flu?

Alexander and the CDC recommend several precautions:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when sneezing or coughing. Throw the tissue away after using it.
  • Wash hands often in warm, soapy water.
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick.
  • If you are sick, stay home from work or school. This will minimize the risk of spreading the infection to others.

Is there a treatment for swine flu?

Two of the four antiviral prescription medications approved for use in the United States were found to be effective against swine flu in laboratory tests, according to the CDC. Oseltamivir, commonly known as Tamiflu, and Zanamivir, known as Relenza, can reduce swine flu symptoms and may prevent serious flu complications. Treatment must be started soon after getting  sick – the medications might not work if started two days after the flu symptoms begin to show.

Tamiflu and Relenza can also be used to prevent swine flu when given to a person who is not ill but may be near a person with the viral infection. No vaccine is effective in preventing swine flu, the CDC Web site says.

What are the symptoms of swine flu?

Swine flu and human flu share similar symptoms, including fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue, according to the CDC Web site. Diarrhea and vomiting have also been reported in some swine flu cases. Past cases of swine flu infections have resulted in pneumonia and respiratory failure, as well as death. Both swine flu and human flu may worsen chronic medical conditions.

What should I do if I think I have swine flu?

Anyone who has flu-like symptoms, has traveled to areas with confirmed cases or has had contact with an infected person should contact his or her doctor, Alexander said. She recommended first contacting the physician by telephone to minimize exposure, especially in a doctor’s office where many people have compromised immune systems and are more susceptible to infection.

How can I find up-to-date information about swine flu?

The CDC and have comprehensive, official information on swine flu. Social networking sites such as Twitter host real-time swine flu commentary – many Twitter updates are searchable with the hashtag “#swineflu.” An unofficial Google map is also tracking swine flu cases.

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