Originally Published: April 30, 2009 11:52 a.m.
What is swine flu?
Swine influenza is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza viruses that cause regular outbreaks in pigs. People do not normally get swine flu, but human infections can and do happen. Swine flu viruses have been reported to spread from person to person, but in the past, this transmission was limited and not sustained beyond three people.
Is this swine flu virus contagious?
CDC has determined that this swine influenza A (H1N1) virus is a combination of swine, bird and human viruses and is contagious and spreading from human to human.
What are the signs and symptoms of swine flu in people?
The symptoms are similar to the symptoms of regular human flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, runny nose and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting. In the past, severe illness (pneumonia and respiratory failure) and deaths have been reported with swine flu infection in people. Like seasonal flu, swine flu may cause a worsening of any underlying chronic medical conditions.
How does swine flu spread?
Spread of this swine flu virus is thought to be happening in the same way that seasonal flu spreads. Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing of people with the virus. People can also become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose or eyes or any open wound they may have.
When can someone with the flu infect someone else?
Infected people may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to seven or more days after becoming sick. That means you may pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.
What should I do to keep from getting the flu?
First and most importantly: Wash your hands. Try to stay in good general health. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage stress, drink plenty of water and eat nutritious food. Try not to touch surfaces that may be contaminated with the flu virus. Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
How long can viruses live outside the body?
We know that some viruses and bacteria can live two hours or longer on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs and desks. Frequent hand washing will help reduce the chance of getting contamination from these common surfaces.
Are there medicines to treat swine flu?
Yes. CDC recommends the use of oseltamivir or zanamivir for the treatment and/or prevention of infection with these swine influenza viruses. Anti-viral drugs are prescription medicines (pills, liquids or an inhaler) that fight against the flu by keeping flu viruses from reproducing in your body. If you get sick, anti-viral drugs can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious flu complications. For treatment, anti-viral drugs work best if started soon after getting sick (within two days of symptoms).
How long can an infected person spread swine flu to others?
People with swine influenza should be considered potentially contagious as long as they are symptomatic and possibly for up to seven days following the onset of illness. Children, especially younger children, might potentially be contagious for longer periods.
What surfaces are most likely to be sources of contamination?
Germs can be spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, mouth or any open wound. Droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person move through the air. Germs can be spread when a person touches respiratory droplets from another person on a surface like a desk and then touches their own eyes, mouth, nose or open wound before washing their hands.
What can I do to protect myself from getting sick?
There is no vaccine available right now to protect against swine flu although manufacturers are on stand-by to create one, if necessary. There are everyday actions that can help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses like influenza.
Take these steps to protect your health:
Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in a trash can afterward. If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your arm.
Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are also effective.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, mouth or open wounds because that spreads germs.
Avoid close contact with sick people.
If you get the flu, stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.
What is the best technique for washing my hands to avoid getting the flu?
Wash your hands often with soap and water, or with alcohol-based hand cleaner. The CDC recommends washing for 15 to 20 seconds. That's about the time it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song twice. If using gels or hand-sanitizers, rub your hands until they are dry.
What should I do if I get sick?
If you live in areas where swine flu cases have been confirmed and you become ill with influenza-like symptoms, contact your health-care provider for possible influenza testing or treatment. Other than for seeing your doctor, stay home to keep from spreading your illness.
Can I get swine flu from eating or preparing pork?
No. Swine flu viruses are not spread by food. You cannot get swine flu from eating pork or pork products. Eating properly handled and cooked pork is safe. Viruses are killed at proper cooking temperatures.
How serious is swine flu?
Like seasonal flu, swine flu in humans can vary in severity from mild to severe, including death. This version of swine flu is brand new and is a combination of swine, avian and human viruses. Many people have already gotten the virus and recovered. Some have died. Any new influenza strain is unpredictable and experts are still studying this new strain and fear it could mutate further.