Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Swine Flu 101
Q: What is a pandemic?
A: When a new subtype of a virus is identified, there is little or no immunity present in the community so everyone is at risk. A global disease outbreak is a pandemic. It past flu pandemics (Spanish flu-1918, Asian flu- 1957, Hong Kong flu-1968) the virus reached around the world within 6-9 months. We are more connected now so it could be faster.
Q: Did the Swine flu come from pigs?
A: It is a new strain of influenza A H1N1, not previously seen in swine or humans. Swine influenzas are common in pigs year round but this virus is spread from human to human without pig involvement.
Q: Why is Egypt killing all the pigs?
A: There have been no cases in Egypt and killing the pigs makes no scientific sense.
Q: Why does the World Health Organization (WHO) use a rating system for a pandemic?
A: The rating system helps public health officials and hospitals prepare for a pandemic. The pandemic alert (Phase 1-6) helps to track the virus across the globe. We are now at Phase 5 which is "Spread of disease between humans is occurring in more than one country of one WHO region." Phase 6 is "community-level outbreaks in at least one additional country in a different WHO region from phase 5." That indicates a global pandemic.
Q: If I have fever and diarrhea, could it be the swine flu?
A: Influenza is a respiratory illness so it affects the lungs. If the main symptoms are in the GI tract or stomach, it is not the swine flu.
Q: I had the flu vaccine this year. Am I still at risk?
A: Because this is a new strain, the flu vaccine will not be protective. A new vaccine is being developed and is on fast track.
Q: How worried should I be?
A: You should stay informed but not worry. In the U.S. 36,000 people die from influenza each year. The swine flu is a new strain that has health officials worried because we do not have a vaccine or immunity, but there is nothing to indicate that it is more virulent than ordinary flu. Because it is new and spreading globally, there is close surveillance and reporting. If many people are sick and home with the flu it can affect public services, hospitals, schools, business, travel and the economy. Cities are preparing, but they really have no idea how the pandemic will play out.
Posted by Toni Brayer, MD at 8:01 PM