Swine Flu: What You Need to Know

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H1N1 Flu, commonly known as swine flu, is an illness that is causing people to become sick primarily across the United States, Canada and Mexico. Discovered in April 2009, the virus is spread through person-to-person contact much in the way traditional influenza is transmitted. As of May 3, 2009, there were 226 reported cases of swine flu in the United States, one death, and 30 states affected

Why the name Swine Flu? H1N1 was originally called "swine flu" because testing showed that many of the genes in this new virus were very similar to flu viruses that can occur normally in North American pigs. However, further study unearthed that the virus is very different from pig flu. It has a combination of genes from flu viruses found in pigs, some avian genes, and some human genes, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Signs and Symptoms H1N1 flu produces symptoms similar to regular flu. These include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. There have also been reports of diarrhea and vomiting with this strain of flu.

Swine Flu Q&A 1. How is H1N1 spread? This flu is thought to be spread the same as the regular seasonal flu; mainly through coughing or sneezing by people already infected. In some cases, you can be affected by touching something with the flu virus on it and then touching your mouth or nose.

2. Can swine flu be passed through pork products? Eating properly handled and prepared pork products is completely safe. H1N1 flu is not spread through pork food products.

3. Is swine flu dangerous? Just like any flu, H1N1 has the potential to be a more serious risk for certain individuals, including young children, pregnant women, those over age 65, and people with chronic medical conditions, says the CDC. However, generally H1N1 is well tolerated and passes in a few days as with seasonal flu. If you experience greater-than-normal symptoms of flu or if you experience great discomfort, a visit to the doctor is recommended to determine a course of treatment.

4. Where am I most at risk for infection? Person-to-person contact in close quarters yields a higher rate of infection with H1N1, which is why many schools have temporarily closed to disinfect items shared and used by students. The virus is unlikely to spread through public water supplies and even in water parks, fountains, pools, and spas because that water is treated with disinfectants, such as chlorine.

5. What are the best ways to prevent swine flu infection? Frequent hand-washing with warm water and soap is key to preventing transmission of many viruses and bacteria. Children should be encouraged to wash their hands thoroughly and frequently as well. Hand sanitizers that contain at least 60 percent alcohol are also effective when hand-washing is not possible. Avoid touching your nose and mouth after touching public surfaces. Steer clear of people who are sick or those you suspect may have the flu virus. You may also want to limit time in close quarters, such as on public transportation, if possible. Refrain from sharing personal items, such as eating and drinking utensils and personal hygiene products. If you are sick, stay home from work or school to prevent the virus from spreading. The flu may take at least a week to run its course.

6. What can I do to disinfect my house or work areas? Keep surfaces clean by wiping them down with a household disinfectant according to the directions on the product. Areas of focus should include kitchen counters, bathroom counters, sink knobs, bedside tables, doorknobs, telephones, remote controls, computer keyboards, or any other surface frequently used. Studies have shown that an influenza virus can survive on environmental surfaces and can infect a person for up to 2 to 8 hours after being deposited on the surface.

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