North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

April 29, 2009

Swine flu: What you and Old McDonald should know

Health Watch By Steve Mullenix

The North Jefferson News

You’ve read about in the paper and heard about it on the news.

With images of people walking around with white masks covering their noses and mouths, the media is really putting the spin on swine flu.

The scare has even hit Mt. Olive, as I am getting e-mails from customers asking me if I have Tamiflu in stock.

What is swine flu?

Swine influenza is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type-A influenza viruses. Regular outbreaks occur in pigs.

Although people do not normally get swine flu, human infections can and do occur. Swine flu viruses have been reported to spread from person-to-person.

In the past, this transmission was limited. So, why the hype now?

The CDC normally received reports of approximately one human swine influenza virus infection every one to two years in the United States, but this year through February 2009, 12 cases of human infection with swine influenza have been reported.

So far, swine flu has killed more than 100 people and affected possibly 14 hundred others in Mexico since April 13 of this year. There are 20 confirmed cases in five states in America and suspected cases in Canada and France. In addition, 10 people have tested positive for influenza-A in New Zealand.

You may keep hearing the term “pandemic,” which is an epidemic of infectious disease that spreads through populations across a large region or even worldwide. One of the major concerns is that there is no vaccine against this strain of the flu, thus a lot of the individuals for serious risk for catching the flu and are not able to be protected.

In late March and early April 2009, cases of human infection with swine influenza viruses were first reported in Southern California and near San Antonio, Texas. Other states have reported cases of swine flu infection in humans and cases have been reported internationally as well. Precautions are being taken to the point of closing schools and cancelling scheduled public events to limit the spread. Historically, flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing of people with influenza. Sometimes people may become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouths or noses.

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 that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Current flu immunizations do not offer any protection from the strain. A vaccine for the newly identified stain of the flu is months away from being available.

How to avoid swine flu

First and foremost: wash your hands and try to stay in good general health.

Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food. Try not to touch surfaces that may be contaminated with the flu virus and avoid close contact with people who are sick.

There are actions that can help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses like influenza. Take these daily steps to protect your health:

• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.

• Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.

• Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

• If you get sick with influenza, it is recommended that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.

Signs and symptoms

The symptoms of swine flu in people are similar to the symptoms of regular human flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting associated with swine flu. In the past, severe illness (pneumonia and respiratory failure) and death have been reported with swine flu infection in people. Like seasonal flu, swine flu may cause a worsening of underlying chronic medical conditions.

What if you get sick?

If you live in areas where swine influenza cases have been identified and become ill with influenza-like symptoms, contact your health care provider. Your doctor will determine whether influenza testing or treatment is needed.


Antiviral medications such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza) may be used for the treatment and/or prevention of infection with these swine influenza viruses. Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines (pills, liquid or an inhaler) that fight against the flu by keeping flu viruses from reproducing in your body.

If you get sick, antiviral drugs can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious flu complications. For treatment, antiviral drugs work best if started soon after getting sick (within two days of symptoms).

Steve Mullenix (R.Ph) co-owns The Pharmacy in Mount Olive with his wife, Sherry Mullenix (J.D., R.N.). They can be reached at 631-1201.