The recent outbreak of swine flu in Mexico and in the United States underscores the importance of maintaining a strong public health emergency response system. It also reminds us of the critical role that each and every one of us plays in helping to control the spread of infectious disease.Swine flu is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by influenza (flu) viruses known as type A – this strain of influenza is different from the usual type of influenza virus that spreads through our community regularly. It regularly causes infection in pigs but rarely in people.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined that a particular strain of swine flu virus type A called H1N1 is contagious and spreading from person to person.
The symptoms are similar to seasonal human flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting. People who exhibit these symptoms should be tested for influenza by their primary care provider. However, if you seek medical attention, make sure that you inform the clinic personnel of your symptoms in advance of your arrival so that they can take the appropriate precautions to prevent spreading the virus to others.
This swine flu, like regular flu, is spread mainly by coughing or sneezing, and sometimes by touching something with flu virus on it and then touching the mouth or nose. Infected people may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms appear and up to seven days or more after becoming sick.
What can you do to keep from getting this flu? First and most important - wash your hands often with soap and warm water for 15 to 20 seconds, especially after you cough or sneeze. When soap and water are not available, alcohol-based hand gels containing at least 60 percent alcohol are effective. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Try not to touch surfaces that may be contaminated with the virus. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Get adequate sleep, drink plenty of fluids, eat nutritious foods, be physically active and manage your stress. Finally, avoid unnecessary travel to areas with outbreaks.
To help prevent spreading the virus to others, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and throw the used tissue in the trash. If you don’t have a tissue, cover your cough or sneeze with your shirt sleeve and again wash your hands frequently.
If you get sick with flu, limit contact with others. Additionally, you should notify your primary care provider, who may recommend treatment with antiviral drugs.
Sound public health and infection control require a community effort, but it begins with each one of us making a commitment to take these personal steps, which can go a long way to limiting the spread of flu.
Gary Raskob, Ph. D., is dean of the University of Oklahoma College of Public Health. Michael Bronze, M.D., is chairman of the OU College of Medicine’s department of internal medicine