Whatever you call this flu, keep from getting it

By Terri C. Hansen
Environment and Science Reporter 4-30-09

The mouthful H1N1, or “swine flu” that everyone is talking about is spreading rapidly in the United States. But, the fact that there have been no reported cases in Indian Country “speaks to our efforts” to address the issue head on, according to an Indian Health Service spokeswoman. 

The key word here is reported – there may be cases, but none were reported as of late afternoon on April 30.

IHS and tribal leaders have mobilized and are coordinating efforts with federal and state public health departments and emergency service offices to ensure that rapid influenza tests and cultures are in place along with adequate supplies of anti-viral medications, and early surveillance, the spokeswoman said.

H1N1 is an influenza A virus that can cause a range of symptoms, usually fever, cough, sore throat, headaches and muscle aches, fatigue, and occasionally vomiting and diarrhea. So far most of those infected have had mild disease, but some have had more severe illness, and there has been one death in the U.S.

Some groups, such as pregnant women and young children or those with chronic conditions may be at higher risk.

A Phase 5 alert by the World Health Organization has prompted concern of an imminent pandemic, but the current flu has not grown into pandemic proportions.

Pandemics are caused by new flu strains. Although the U.S. has declared a public health emergency, and a growing number of states are doing so as well, "this flu isn’t particularly virulent," says Karen Hunter, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. “It’s just that it’s a new strain, and the human population hasn’t built up a resistance.” Hunter says 36,000 deaths are caused by the flu in any given year, “and the CDC is not expecting this flu to exceed that.” 

Hunter says 36,000 deaths are caused by the flu in any given year, “and the CDC is not expecting this flu to exceed that.”

There is confusion about whether this virus, originally said to be of swine, bird, and human origin, is only swine, as is now claimed. U.S. Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack said as of April 28 there is no indication that any pig from the U.S. has been affected. And whether or not this is a pig virus, eating pork won’t give it to you.

While there’s no need for panic, families need to take sensible precautions. Seek medical care if you or someone in your family shows symptoms of the flu. Young children may not have typical symptoms, but may have difficulty breathing and show signs of low activity. 

Flu is caused by airborne spread of droplets, and everyday actions such as staying away from someone with the disease, can keep you from catching it. The CDC recommends staying home when you are sick, frequent hand washing with soap or detergents, keeping a six foot distance from people who may be sick, and using tissues or sneezing into your elbow to keep from sending it airborne.

The CDC (www.cdc.gov/swineflu) and the federal government’s consolidated pandemic influenza web site (www.pandemicflu.gov) are good sources of information about pandemic flu.

Those without access to a computer can call the CDC’s toll-free hotline: 1-800-CDCinfo (1-800-232-4636).

The number for the hearing impaired is 1-888-232-6348.

For information on pandemic preparedness, visit www.pandemicfluandyou.org.

For updates on the H1N1 flu, stay tuned to www.IndianCountryNew.com, and www.IndianCountryTV . com and the Native News Update daily news feed (M-F) and if needed, special reports.