"We forget ourselves and our destinies in health, and the chief use of temporary sickness is to remind us of these concerns."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

(American Poet 1803 – 1882)

As may of you have been watching the information regarding the recent swine flu (H1N1 influenza virus) outbreak and sharing your concerns and fears regarding it, we do want to point out a few facts regarding this virus that may help answer some of your questions.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, swine flu is a respiratory infection with the Type A influenza virus that commonly affects pigs. It is similar in many ways to our "seasonal flu." Over the years there have been a few reported cases of humans getting affected by the swine flu, and according to the CDC at least 12 cases from December 2005 through February 2009 in the United States. Keep in mind that most patients affected by this virus may have similar symptoms as someone that has the typical flu.

With that said, according to the CDC, there have been approximately 26,000 positive lab tested specimens of influenza and 55 reported pediatric deaths related to influenza during this flu season (2008-'09) in the United States. This does not include swine flu, only the seasonal flu. So the important thing to remember is that there are more patients that have been affected and that have died from the seasonal flu in the United States annually than those affected by swine flu, even today.

We need to be vigilant and cautious but not frightened to a point that we don't leave our homes for the next few days to weeks. Some patients, such as those with a lowered immunity, will need to be extra cautious, as they are less likely to fight off infections in general, and infections tend to affect them severely.

Currently there are no vaccines available to prevent swine flu, but even if there were and if it could be administered today, realize that it could takes weeks to months before one could develop some degree (not 100 percent) of protection.

Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir) are the only medications approved to help reduce the severity and / or possibly prevent the swine flu viral infection, according to the CDC. Remember that these medications do not confer 100 percent protection, and its effectiveness is influenced by when the medication is used in relation to onset of symptoms. These medications are most effective if taken within 48 hours of onset of symptoms. Also as with any other medication, they too can have side effects, so check with your health provider before taking these medications.

The annual flu vaccine does not confer immunity against the swine flu.

What can you do to protect yourself and limit its spread?

1. Avoid contacting others if you are infected, as it can spread easily via respiratory secretions (coughing, saliva, etc.).

2. Stay home from school or work., to avoid spreading infections to others.

3. Cough into a tissue and dispose of it appropriately. If you do not have a tissue, then cough into your sleeve. This is because after coughing into our hands, we often forget to wash them immediately and then touch other objects or people, putting others at risk for infection.

4. Most importantly, good hand hygiene, with either frequent soap and water washing, or alcohol-based hand gel.

5. Keep regularly used surfaces clean and disinfected (telephone, counter tops, desk, computer, door knobs, etc.).

6. Drink plenty of water; stay well hydrated.

7. Avoid contact with sick people if you are able to do so.

8. Rest or at least avoid strenuous activity, while ill. Good sleep and rest is restorative to the body and helps to improve immunity.

9. Call your health care provider's office to see if there is any other advice that can be offered specific to you and for any further updates.

10. If you have known medical condition(s) that could put you at a higher risk for severe symptoms and / or complications, then talk with your health care provider soon.

11. If you develop severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing, profound weakness, etc., or if symptoms are lasting an unusually long time — seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Send questions regarding this or any other medical or health related topic to askthedoctors@ymail.com

For more information, please visit the following websites:

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – http://www.cdc.gov">www.cdc.gov

2. World Health Organization - http://www.who.int">www.who.int

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