Swine flu is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza. It usually doesn't infect humans, but the strain that's now a worldwide threat is a different virus, one that definitely is passed by human-to-human contact. This influenza A (H1N1) virus infection, which started in Mexico, is cause for concern for the following reaons:
- it passes directly from person to person
- there is no vaccine that can prevent it
- it has human and avian influenza, and it continues to mutate.
The symptoms of this new flu virus are similar to those of regular flu--fever, cough, runny nose and allergy.
Like some garden-variety flu, this one is resistant to two drugs known as amantadine and rimantadine. However, the CDC reports that Tamiflu and Relenza work against this strain of swine flu.
The CDC has determined that this virus is contagious and is spreading from human to human, although it is not yet known how easily the virus spreads between people. As with any infectious disease, the CDC recommends taking certain precautions:
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and throw the tissue away after you use it.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- If you get sick, CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.
- Everyone--staff, residents, visitors--needs to wash their hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective. It's recommended that, when using these hand cleaners, think of the words to "Happy Birthday" as a way to measure the time required for thorough cleaning.
Because there is the possibility that this strain will affect the most vulnerable, babies, young children and the elderly are most at risk from flu viruses--although the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic was particularly lethal to other groups. Nonetheless, this particular strain, unlike previous flus, appears to pass more readily between people.
The likelihood of transmission of this flu between and among people who live in close quarters, such as assisted living facilities and nursing homes requires that residents, staff and all other visitors take the precautions listed above. (The Great Places blogmaster appreciates the comment that he's just used to broaden the list of people who need to take these precautions!)