Saturday, May 2, 2009

H1N1/Swine Flu- is it "Aporkalypse" now?

Will we remember May 2009 as the beginning of the "Aporkalypse"? Will Swine Flu, now known as H1N1, cause global panic? The media coverage of this flu outbreak this week has created widespread concern and in some cases, panic. Our kids had cancelled dance recitals, soccer games, and band competitions as school districts and UIL leaders began to close schools for after hours and weekend activities. Is all this really necessary?
Well, I certainly hope this is all overkill. We need to recognize that the CDC is doing their job, and by their criteria, even though the actual numbers are small, there are enough separate countries and regions with cases of this flu that H1N1 does indeed qualify to be called a "pandemic".  Time will tell us in the next couple of weeks just how virulent this virus is in humans. Right now we know the virus can still be killed by two antiviral medicines, which is great news. We know that there is evidence of mild disease as well as severe. What we don't know yet is how much of the influenza A that we physicians have been diagnosing this year is really H1N1- we didn't start LOOKING for this virus until last week. 
Hopefully, most of the cases of H1N1 will prove to be mild, with patients healing even without any antiviral medicines. We need to realize that our "regular" flu is a serious disease EVERY year, and even in 2009 we have had over 800 deaths per week in the United States from this annual hazard. Ever wonder why primary care physicians are such fans of the flu vaccine?
Good basic prevention is ALWAYS in style. Wash your hands in soapy water for 20 seconds before meals. Use hand sanitizer. Use the wipes on the grocery cart at the store. If you have a fever (temp >100.5), sore throat, runny nose, cough, and body aches- see your doctor. This is a time for caution, not fear. Let's not contribute to our health care expenses by going to the emergency room with the common cold.
BOTTOM LINE: The jury is still out on how severe the H1N1 Virus will become. Let's use common sense and soapy water, and remember to get your flu vaccine every year to help prevent "regular" influenza, a known killer disease.

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