The pigs have the flu

Yesterday, Acting Secretary of Health and Human Services, Charles Johnson, declared a state of emergency, due to a recent increase in cases of swine flu (influenza type A H1N1).  The actual language read:

As a consequence of confirmed cases of Swine Influenza A (swH1N1) in California, Texas, Kansas, and New York, on this date and after consultation with public health officials as necessary, I, Charles E. Johnson, Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, pursuant to the authority vested in me under section 319 of the Public Health Service Act, 42 U.S.C. § 247d, do hereby determine that a public health emergency exists nationwide involving Swine Influenza A that affects or has significant potential to affect national security.”

My first thought was, “Ha, I’m glad I don’t eat pork,” but of course, that was silly.  Swine flu isn’t transmitted by eating the cooked animal.  Temperatures of at least 160°F kills bacteria and viruses.  According to the CDC, swine flu is spread mostly through contact among pigs and from contaminated objects moving between infected and uninfected groups of pigs.  Flu outbreaks in pigs are fairly common, particularly  during winter.  What’s uncommon, and what we are concerned about now, is humans being infected by swine flu.  As of 1:00 pm today, there were 40 confirmed cases in the U.S. in five states (CA, KS,NY, OH, TX.), with additional cases reported in Mexico and Europe.

While the vaccine for the human version of the flu does not protect against swine flu, the symptoms are the same.  Therefore, people exhibiting a fever, cough, body aches, headaches, fatigue, nasal congestion, vomiting and diarrhea are being encouraged to contact their doctors, particularly if they have been in contact with sick pigs, or people who were in contact with sick pigs.

Prevention is mostly in the hands of farmers and veterinarians, through vaccinations and efforts to control outbreaks.  However, the public is being urged to follow general flu prevention guidelines, such as covering the nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, frequent hand washing and avoiding groups (work, school, etc) when exhibiting symptoms.  Americans are also being urged to avoid nonessential travel to Mexico, where it is believed the current epidemic originated.

Treatment of swine flu includes courses of antiviral medications, such as Tamiflu and Relenza.  Both require a prescription from a physician.  The CDC has released 11 million courses from the strategic national stockpile for  use during this epidemic.

More information is available from the CDC, on their website at www.cdc.gov/swineflu/ or by calling (800) CDC-INFO.

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