The World Health Organization has declared the Swine Flu a pandemic. Learn why is this situation now a pandemic and what
does it mean.
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Swine Flu Pandemic
Why is this situation now being called a pandemic?
P. Mona Khanna: Pandemic Phase 6 of the alert level acknowledges that there are confirmed cases of H1N1 influenza, that are widespread in the world. Some medical experts were pushing for the World Health Organization to raise the alert level to pandemic, for many weeks before it was finally done on June 11, 2009. Raising the level though doesn't speak to how severe the cases are. Phase 6 just indicates geography and the widespread presence of H1 influenza cases, now in more than 70 countries.
The WHO's decision to raise the pandemic alert level to Phase 6 simply reflex the spread of the virus, because H1N1 is a new virus, people may have little or no immunity against it. Illness may be more severe and widespread as a result.
What is H1N1 Influenza?
P. Mona Khanna: H1N1 influenza was originally called Swine Flu, because it emerged from a respiratory disease of pigs caused by a virus that regularly causes outbreaks among pigs. Since swine flu viruses do not normally infect humans, Public Health officials have determined that H1N1 is a new virus, possibly and probably a combination of swine flu and human flu. It first caused illness in Mexico and the United States in March and April of 2009. It spreads in the same way that regular seasonal influenza viruses spread, mainly through coughs and sneezes of infected people. But it can also be spread by touching infected objects, and then touching your nose or your mouth.
H1N1 influenza infection causes many flu like symptoms; fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headaches, chills and fatigue, but interestingly enough, infected people also have nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea in some circumstances.
How serious is this pandemic?
P. Mona Khanna: As of today about 40,000 cases of this influenza had been diagnosed worldwide. More than 20,000 of those in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there had been 87 US deaths. Every state is reporting at least 18 cases of this influenza. In the United States, most people who have become ill with the newly declared pandemic virus have recovered without requiring medical treatment. However, CDC anticipates that there will be more cases, more hospitalizations, and more deaths associated with this pandemic in the coming days and weeks.
Importantly this virus could cause significant illness with more hospitalizations and deaths in the fall and winter during the regular fall/winter influenza season.
How can we prevent becoming infected now and in the future?
P. Mona Khanna: You're doing the right thing by watching this video, staying informed is key. The H1N1 flu spreads just the same as any other influenza. By infecting people, transmitting the virus to others through coughing or sneezing flu germs. Wash your hands often with soap and water and avoid contact with sick people. Using soap and water is the best option, but you can use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol.
Now if you're diagnosed with H1N1 flu, do your best to avoid infecting others. Stay home from work or school, to keep from spreading the virus. Unfortunately, you may be able to infect others 24-48 hours before symptoms develop, and about a week after you get sick. So always cover your mouth and nose with the tissue when you cough or sneeze and throw that tissue out immediately. Coughing or sneezing into your arm or sleeve, like this, is a good idea.
One more important thing to do this year is to get the seasonal influenza vaccine. It comes in either an injection or nasal mist. It's usually available in late summer/early fall, and you can get it through March. Even though it doesn't provide specific direct protection against the H1N1 flu, there may be some cause protection and it's designed to protect against seasonal influenza, which is responsible for more than 30,000 deaths each year.
A specific vaccine for H1N1 flu is in development, and there are medications to prevent and treat H1N1 flu, that are available through your doctor.
What travel precautions are advised?
P. Mona Khanna: The CDC has issued very comprehensive travel recommendations. People entering the United States who are experiencing symptoms consistent with swine flu and have traveled to an affected area or have been exposed to somebody possibly infected with swine flu, during the last 7 days should report their illnesses to their health care provider immediately and inform them of their recent travel.
People traveling from the United States to affected areas should be aware of the reason, and take precautions such as avoiding contact with ill persons, covering their nose or mouth when coughing or sneezing, washing hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand gel, and avoiding close contact with others. Do not go to work, school or travel while ill.
Here are recommendations for asymptomatic people to take medication. There really aren't any ubiquitously, but you can talk to your doctor or healthcare provider, if you need or think you need that medication to prevent from getting the flu. Currently, there are no recommendations to use face masks while traveling.
Where can I get more information?
P. Mona Khanna: The best most complete and most accurate source of continuous up-to-date information is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Go to cdc.gov/H1N1FLU.
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