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Officials offer advice for avoiding, treating swine flu.

Byline: Matt Cooper The Register-Guard

Lane County Public Health has been inundated with calls about swine flu, officials said Monday.

The following are common questions, with answers from health organizations and other sources. Some of this information is available on the Lane County Public Health hot line at 682-4181.

Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site at www.cdc.gov/flu/swine/investigation.htm for more information.

Question: What is swine influenza?

Answer: Swine influenza or swine flu is a highly contagious acute respiratory disease of pigs. The virus is spread among pigs by direct and indirect contact. People usually get swine flu from infected pigs, but human-to-human transmission can occur in close contact and closed groups of people, potentially through coughing or sneezing, or through touching a surface that has the virus, and then one's mouth or nose.

Question: How serious is swine flu?

Answer: Like seasonal flu, swine flu in humans can vary in severity. From 2005 to January 2009, 12 human cases of swine flu were detected in the United States, with no deaths. In September 1988, a previously healthy 32-year-old pregnant woman in Wisconsin was hospitalized for pneumonia after being infected with swine flu and died eight days later. A swine flu outbreak in Fort Dix, N.J., occurred in 1976, causing more than 200 cases with serious illness in several people and one death.

Question: Where has this strain of swine flu been found?

Answer: There have been 40 confirmed cases in the United States (California, Kansas, New York City, Ohio and Texas) and all patients have recovered. No cases have been reported in Oregon but the bug is expected at some point, the county said. As of Monday afternoon, nearly 2,000 people in many states across Mexico were believed to have been sickened by the virus. At least 149 people have died in Mexico. Four other countries have confirmed cases, and many have stepped up testing, according to news reports.

Question: Why is so much attention being given to swine flu?

Answer: Complications from seasonal flu kill 36,000 people in the United States every year. However, health experts have never seen this type of swine flu before. It can be transmitted from person to person, and because humans haven't already encountered it, our immune systems can't defend against it, said Betsy Meredith, of Lane County Public Health. Swine flu has the potential to be as dangerous as seasonal flu or worse, she added.

Question: How long after exposure to swine flu do symptoms appear?

Answer: Three to four days, according to experts.

Question: What are the symptoms?

Answer: The symptoms are similar to those for seasonal flu: Fever greater than 100F or 37.8C, sore throat, cough, stuffy nose, chills, headache, body aches and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting.

Question: Can I take a vaccine and will flu shots protect me?

Answer: There is no vaccine for this strain of swine flu. The county health department recommends seasonal flu shots but it is not known whether current human seasonal influenza vaccines can provide protection.

Question: Do antiviral medications stop swine flu?

Answer: People in the early stages of swine flu can reduce the severity of the sickness with doctor-prescribed antivirals Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir). Public health experts discourage the use of antivirals as prevention because the bug will adapt and become resistant, Meredith said.

Question: What preventative steps should I take?

Answer: Wash your hands often. Cover your mouth with something other than your hand when you cough. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth and avoid close contact with sick people. If you are sick, stay home and contact your health care provider.

Question: What should I do if I think I have swine flu?

Answer: If you feel unwell, have high fever, cough and/or sore throat: Stay at home and keep away from work, school or crowds. Rest and take plenty of fluids. Cover your mouth and nose with disposable tissues when coughing and sneezing and dispose of the used tissues properly. Wash your hands with soap and water frequently and thoroughly, especially after coughing or sneezing. Inform family and friends about your illness and seek help for household chores such as shopping that require contact with other people.

Question: Should I see my doctor if I think I have swine flu?

Answer: Contact your doctor or health care provider before traveling to them and report your symptoms. Explain why you think you have swine flu (for example, if you have recently traveled to a country where there is a swine flu outbreak in humans).

Question: How long can an infected person spread swine flu?

Answer: People with swine influenza virus infection should be considered contagious as long as they are symptomatic and possibly for up to seven days following illness onset. Children, especially younger children, can be contagious even longer.

Question: What are Lane County and the state doing about swine flu?

Answer: Lane County's priorities are surveillance, reporting of possible and confirmed cases, communication to the public and other health organizations, maintenance of health and community services and delivery of vaccines and antiviral medication, officials said.

Among other steps, the state Public Health Department is requesting that health care providers arrange for testing of patients who have influenza-type illness - particularly if they have recently traveled to Southern California, Texas or Mexico - and is re-testing samples to determine if any recent flu infections among Oregonians were due to swine flu.

Question: Is it safe to eat pork and pork products?

Answer: Yes. You do not get swine flu from eating pork or pork products.
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Title Annotation:City/Region
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Apr 28, 2009
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