You can’t turn a television on lately without hearing something about the possiblility of a swine flu pandemic. As of 11:00 am today EDT (Eastern Daylight Time) the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) in Atlanta, GA has reported 64 confirmed cases of the swine flu. The CDC has issued a travel warning recommending against non essential travel to Mexico. Yesterday the WHO (World Health Organization) raised the worldwide pandemic alert level from Phase 4 to Phase 5. Phase 4 means there is verifiable human to human transmission of infection. Phase 4 indicates a significant increase in risk of a pandemic but does not necessarily mean that a pandemic is a forgone conclusion. Phase 5 ” is characterized by human to human spread of the virus into at least two countries in one WHO region.” This means there is a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and it is time to implement measures to deal with the reality of a pandemic
Currently there is no vaccine available for the swine flu. The WHO believes that having an annual flu vaccine may offer partial protection against the current strain. However this influenza strain is biologically different from the strain that is protected with the current vaccine. Currently the CDC is studying and developing a vaccine for the recent swine flu outbreak.
In Mexico there have been close to 1,600 suspected cases of this influenza strain. Scientist are working to understand why there are so many deaths in Mexico when the United States cases seem mild. Some believe that the infected people in Mexico waited until the were very ill before seeking medical attention. The concern is that most of those that died in Mexico were healthy young adults. As of yesterday there were 149 fatalities from this outbreak.
The United States government announced a public health emergency although President Barack Obama urged calm. Obama told a gathering of the National Academy of Sciences the swine flu outbreak “requires a heightened state of alert, but it is not a cause for alarm”. The acting director of the CDC, Richard Besser said the affected states ( New York, Ohio, Kansas, Texas and California) would be receiving 11 million courses of antiviral drugs.
So what does this mean if you are currently taking medication that suppresses your immune system, as many of us with autoimmune diseases do? It means that we need to extra vigilant when it comes to hygiene, make sure that you wash your hands often with soap and water. I always keep a alcohol based hand cleaner in my car and I use it after every shopping trip. Avoid contact with someone who is sick. If you should start to feel sick with flu like symptoms, runny nose, cough, aches,and fever call your doctor and stay home from school or work. Avoid touching your mouth, nose or eyes, that is how germs are spread.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are updating their websites regularly. Here are their links: