|Vaccination still the best way to defeat swine flu
Swine flu has become a concern this year. H1N1 virus, better known as swine flu, has already caused more than 100 deaths in California this year, including five in Sonoma County. This is the largest outbreak of swine flu since the epidemic of 2009. The good news is the outbreak seems to be subsiding with a significant decrease in number of patient’s diagnosed with H1N1 over the last few weeks.
“Swine flu” got its name because laboratory testing showed that many of the genes in the H1N1 virus were very similar to influenza viruses that normally occur in pigs in North America. But further study has shown that the H1N1 virus is very different from what normally circulates in North American pigs. In any case, the flu cannot arise from eating pork. Note that flu viruses including H1N1 are not spread by food. Eating properly handled and cooked pork products is safe.
The best protection against all flu viruses is a vaccination. Getting a seasonal flu shot and a separate swine flu shot are your best bet for staying healthy. Getting the shot before the flu season is in full force gives the body a chance to build up immunity to the flu virus. It takes two weeks after getting the flu shot for immunity and about six weeks to be fully protected. It is best to get the flu shot in the fall, but it is not too late. Though usually January and February are the worst months for contracting the flu, the flu season can last till the end of May.
The normal seasonal flu is a huge public health problem that kills tens of thousands of people in the U.S. alone and hundreds of thousands around the world. About 20 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu every year, with 200,000 hospitalized and 36,000 deaths. In seasonal flu, certain people are at “high risk” of serious complications. This includes people 65 years and older, children younger than five years old, pregnant women, and people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions.
Most people that die from the seasonal flu are over 65 years old with preexisting medical conditions. Over 90 percent of deaths and about 60 percent of hospitalizations occur in people older than 65.
Swine flu also affects individuals with preexisting medical problems more readily. About 70 percent of people who have been hospitalized with swine flu this year have had one or more medical conditions previously recognized as placing people at “high risk” of serious seasonal flu-related complications. This includes pregnancy, diabetes, heart disease, asthma and kidney disease.
One thing that appears to be different from seasonal flu is that adults older than 64 years do not appear to be at increased risk to swine flu. In fact, swine flu has caused greater disease burden in people younger than 25 years of age than older people. There are few cases and few deaths reported in people older than 64 years old, which is unusual when compared with seasonal flu.
The last death in Sonoma County was a man in his mid-30s, who had significant underlying health problems and spent more than a month in a hospital before he died. However, recently a 23-year-old man with no existing health problems died of H1N1.
The symptoms of swine flu virus are similar to seasonal flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. A significant number of people who have been infected with this virus also have reported diarrhea and vomiting. Like with seasonal flu, most people who have been sick with swine flu have mild symptoms and recover without needing medical treatment.
Flu viruses including swine flu are contagious and spread from person-to-person, through coughing or sneezing (droplet formation). The flu viruses land on objects and are more often transferred to surfaces through touch of the sick individual. The most common means of infection transfer comes from people touching an infected object, such as a doorknob or drinking glass and then touching their own mouth or nose. The flu virus can survive on surfaces for up to 8 hours. People infected with either seasonal or swine flu are usually contagious from 1 day before getting sick to 5 to 7 days after.
Other than getting a flu shot, the best prevention from getting the flu is frequent hand washing. Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. Wash with soap and water or clean with alcohol-based hand cleaner. CDC recommends that when you wash your hands – with soap and warm water – that you wash for 15 to 20 seconds. When soap and water are not available, alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers may be used. If using gel, rub your hands until the gel is dry. The gel doesn't need water to work; the alcohol in it kills the germs on your hands. Also avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
If you become sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. Keep away from others as much as possible to keep from making others sick. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
If a person becomes ill and experiences any of the following warning signs, seek emergency medical care.
• Fast breathing, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
• Bluish or gray skin color.
• Not waking up or not interacting.
• Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen.
• Sudden dizziness.
• Severe or persistent vomiting.
• Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough.
I encourage you and your family to get the seasonal flu and swine flu vaccinations. I have been getting the seasonal flu shot every year for over the past 20 years and I have rarely been sick, even though I am in close quarters with people everyday.
Enjoy life and keep smiling.
George Malkemus has a Family and Cosmetic Dental Practice in Rohnert Park at 2 Padre Parkway, Suite 200. Call 585-8595, or email info@ malkemusdds.com. Visit Dr. Malkemus’ Web site at http://www.malkemusdds.com.