Newswise — Much like an unwelcomed visitor who vows to return, swine flu is gearing up for another long visit this fall. Doctors say it’s not time to panic, but it is time to be aware.
“The concern among researchers is that if the swine flu virus, mutates it could cause significant problems,” said Dr. Ashley Drews, an infectious disease expert with The Methodist Hospital in Houston. “With kids back in school, this opens up the possibility of the disease spreading rapidly.”
H1N1, more commonly known as the swine flu, is a novel virus in the influenza A family. The symptoms: fever, body aches, nausea and abdominal pain are virtually the same as regular seasonal influenza. One major difference with swine flu is that it is showing up more in children than in adults. Normally, people age 65 and older are at high risk for contracting influenza and are encouraged to receive a flu shot. This time, experts are recommending children six months and older, health care workers, pregnant women and anyone who works with children, receive the swine flu vaccine when it becomes available.
“The good news is just like regular influenza, if you catch the virus you can use medications like Tamiflu within the first few days to treat it,” Drews said. “It’s also important for everyone to practice good hand hygiene. Wash your hands thoroughly before you eat and after you use the restroom or touch other people. Also, try and keep your hands away from your nose and mouth if you haven’t washed your hands because that is how the disease is transmitted.”
While swine flu is a big concern this fall, Drews hopes people do not forget about regular seasonal influenza. Flu season runs from November through March. It is important to get a flu shot as soon as possible because it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to take effect, she said. For children who are afraid of needles, a nasal-spray flu vaccine has been proven to provide protection against seasonal influenza. The flu virus is spread mainly from person-to-person when the infected person coughs or sneezes. Keep in mind, the possible swine flu vaccine is different from the seasonal vaccine.
Drews said between five and 20 percent of the population gets the flu every year. More than 200,000 people are hospitalized with flu-like symptoms and more than 35,000 people die every year from the seasonal influenza, far more than swine flu.
“We want people to be aware of both types of flu and take the necessary precautions,” Drews said. “The flu will put you out of commission for about three to five days, but getting a shot and recognizing the symptoms early will help keep you healthy this fall and winter.”