Should You Worry About Swine Flu?
The news coverage about H1N1 (swine) flu might have you worried, but there's no reason to panic. You should definitely take precautions, like washing your hands a lot. But although this flu virus has been affecting teens more than other flu viruses, most teens don't get seriously ill from it.
What Is H1N1?
The H1N1 flu that many people call "swine flu" is a recent strain of flu virus. This strain contains a combination of flu viruses that affect pigs, birds, and humans. Because of the human component, the virus can spread from person to person more easily.
How Do People Get It?
H1N1 influenza spreads the same way that other flu viruses do — through the air when a person who has the virus sneezes, coughs, or speaks. People also can catch the virus after touching an object that someone with the virus sneezed or coughed on. As with other flu viruses, people who have the virus can be contagious a day or so before their symptoms start, so they can pass it on before they even know they're sick. You might have heard that flu epidemics often start in schools. If health authorities in your state become concerned that a flu outbreak is possible, they may close schools as a precaution to help slow the spread of the infection.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms?
Symptoms of swine flu are similar to other flu symptoms. A person with swine flu may notice:
- sore throat
- runny nose
- body aches
Some people with swine flu also might have diarrhea or vomiting.
What If I Think I Have the Flu?
If you think you have the flu, call your doctor. It's especially important to see a doctor if you have trouble breathing, or your flu symptoms seem to get better, then return.
Other things you should do are:
- Drink lots of liquids, especially if you're throwing up or have diarrhea.
- Stay home from school as long as your doctor recommends.
- Limit contact with other people to help prevent the spread of illness.
- Cough or sneeze into tissues instead of your hands.
- If you have asthma, make sure you follow your asthma management plan to keep it under control.
- Medicines used to treat seasonal flu may help make swine flu symptoms milder and help people feel better sooner.
What's a Pandemic?
You've probably heard people talk about a swine flu "pandemic." A pandemic doesn't mean a disease causes severe illness in most people who get it. When health experts say a disease is pandemic, this means it has spread widely around the world so lots of people could become infected.
Health officials declare a pandemic as a way to put medical services on alert. That way, they're prepared with enough staff and medication in case large numbers of people need care at the same time.
In the past, some pandemics have caused lots of people to get seriously ill, while others have not. It's too early to tell how dangerous this outbreak of H1N1 flu might be.
Can I Eat Pork?
Because the flu virus isn't transmitted through food, the CDC and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) say it's safe to eat pork. Of course, pork should be well cooked to avoid any illness. Cooking pork to a temperature of 160° or higher will kill all viruses (check the internal temperature of meats when cooking by using a meat thermometer). There's no evidence that touching raw pork will transmit the virus — although it's always a good idea to wash your hands and all surfaces after touching any raw meat.
Take Care, But Don't Panic
Most people who've had swine flu in the United States got better on their own without needing medicines. The best way to protect yourself is by washing your hands frequently during the day and getting the flu shots this fall. If you're worried about the virus, it can help to remember that the last flu pandemic serious enough to kill a lot of people happened almost a century ago — before people had access to the medical knowledge, care, and medications that we have today.
How Can I Protect Myself?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that teens take the following precautions against swine flu:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water or use hand sanitizer — particularly before eating.
- Avoid touching your eyes and mouth.
- Avoid being around people who are sick and be sure to wash your hands if you touch anything someone who seems sick might have touched.
- Get the H1N1 flu vaccine when it becomes available this fall.
- Of course, people sneeze and cough for reasons other than swine flu — like if they have allergies, for example. Try not to worry. The best thing you can do is take the precautions above. If you're concerned about a flu outbreak at school, talk to teachers or your school nurse.