Officials prepare for swine flu, so should individuals

Monday, April 27, 2009

You know the routine; if you're young or older, or have a medical condition, you should get a flu shot.

Younger, healthier people generally don't get the shots.

But now comes the news of 20 confirmed cases of swine flu in the United States, after about 100 people or more died in Mexico City.

And, instead of claiming just the young or old, this swine flu is killing young healthy adults, one of the signs of a pandemic flu, like the Spanish flu that spread worldwide at the end of World War I, killing 50 million people.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, like other state health departments, has a plan to respond to the threat if necessary.

Increased surveillance, alerting doctors and working with local health departments are all part of the plan, according to Dr. Joan Schaefer, chief medical officer and director of the DHHS Division of Public Health.

"We're telling doctors that since the flu season is waning, if they see patients with a high fever and a cough or sore throat, they should collect a specimen for testing," Schaefer said.

Symptoms include a fever of more than 100 degrees, body aches, coughing, a sore throat, respiratory congestion and, in some cases, vomiting and diarrhea.

Yes, the new swine flu has the potential to be dangerous, but the precautions we should take are the same as for any flu season:

* If you have a respiratory illness, stay home from work or school to avoid spreading infections, including influenza, to others in the community.

* Avoid close contact with people who are coughing or otherwise appear ill.

* Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

* Wash hands frequently to lessen the spread of respiratory illness.

* People experiencing cough, fever and fatigue, possibly along with diarrhea and vomiting, should contact their physician.

You can't get swine influenza from food or from eating pork products. The infections appear to spread from person to person, and drugs called antivirals can reduce the consequences of contracting the flu, if taken early.

More information is available at www.cdc.gov/swineflu

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