Every year tens of thousands of people in the United States die of influenza, yet only 19 people¹ have died in Mexico of H1N1 swine flu so far and only one person in the U.S. So why are people so scared about this particular strain of swine flu?
For one thing, this is a new strain of flu. H1N1 swine flu combines strains of avian (bird), human, and swine flu. Dr. Michele Ginsberg, community epidemiology chief for San Diego County, says that the advent of this swine flu reminds her of the early days of AIDS, when people were showing up at emergency centers with strange forms of pneumonia.²
Secondly, there is no vaccine yet for the H1N1 swine flu. In fact, it will be months before a vaccine is developed. Science, medicine, and the FDA simply do not move that fast, even in the face of a potential pandemic.
A lot of the people who have come down with the H1N1 swine flu virus have been in the 18-40 year old age group, the same age group that the great flu epidemic of 1918 affected.
Also, it’s the wrong time of year. This is not the usual flu season. What happened in 1918 and again in 1957 and 1968 was that the flu lay dormant in the summer and then went full force in the fall. Something about this kind of dormancy must give flu strains time to grow stronger.
Nevertheless, all of these factors should not cause you to panic. There are simple ways to greatly reduce the risk to you and your family of getting H1N1 swine flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend³ that you take precautions against getting H1N1 swine flu in the following areas:
– Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze. Mucus flies out of your nose and mouth at about 20 mph, so if you already have swine flu, anyone within 10 – 20 feet of you is at risk for getting the H1N1 swine flu virus if you do not cover your nose and mouth. Also, do not reuse tissues. Throw them away after use.
– Wash your hands often. This cannot be emphasized enough. After you use the bathroom, before you eat, before and after you leave the house, after you cough or sneeze – these are just some of the times you should wash your hands to prevent getting or reinfecting yourself with the H1N1 swine flu virus.
– Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with your bare hands. This is one way viruses spread.
– If you think you might be sick with H1N1 swine flu, stay at home. Limit your contact with people so that you do not spread germs.
– Change your towels often. Hand towels in particular are notorious for housing germs. If someone in your house is sick, use paper towels to dry your hands.
– Stay informed. Check the CDC site on H1N1 swine flu once in awhile to see what they are recommending.
If you follow these simple precautions, you will dramatically reduce the likelihood that you or those you love will get the H1N1 swine flu virus. Please call the CDC at 1-800-CDC-INFO for more information.