Swine Influenza Update from a Nurse: Virus, Panic, Precautions, and End of the World Websites.

Given the amount of attention and anxiety around "swine flu," the H1N1 virus, I thought it might be helpful to ask a health care professional with experience in this area to write a guest post for Boing Boing. My friend Stefanie Fletcher kindly obliged. She is a registered nurse who spends a fair amount of time in Mexico, and is involved with efforts to work with Mexican President Felipe Calderon's cabinet to import vaccines for H1N1 from the US.

Stephanie wrote this guest essay with information about the spread of the disease, precautions to take (or not take), and some observations about nutball "ZOMG-WERE-ALL-GONNA-DIE-ITS-THE-END-OF-THE-WORLD" rapture websites. – XJ

Swine Influenza Update
Stefanie Fletcher, RN ( stefletcher AT earthlink DOT net)

April 26, 2009
6:00 p.m. PST

The outbreak of the H1N1 strain of swine influenza in Mexico calls for caution, but not alarm.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that, people in the U.S. infected with the virus have either traveled to Mexico recently or have been exposed to someone returning from the country. The CDC originally thought the virus was a straightforward swine flu virus. However after closer analysis determined it is a new virus containing a mixture of swine, human and avian viruses.

The U.S. government to declare a public health emergency, reporting that there have been 20 confirmed cases of swine flu in the United States as of noon today. However, there have been no swine flu related deaths in the U.S. and only one patient has been hospitalized. U.S. outbreaks have occurred in Texas, California, New York, and Kansas.

Dr. Jose A. Cordova, Mexico's health secretary, announced that as of Sunday, 81 deaths in Mexico had been deemed "likely linked" to swine flu. . Of the 1,324 patients who were hospitalized with flu-like symptoms, 929 have been treated and released according to Mexican President Felipé Calderon. Dr. Cordova has requested closure of bars, museums, theaters, and churches in Mexico City.

The United States has not issued any travel warnings or restrictions. However, the Canadian government issued a warning to travelers because the public health agency was "tracking clusters of severe respiratory illness with deaths in Mexico." Meanwhile, American, United, and Continental Airlines have all declared they would waive change fees for travelers with tickets to effected areas in Mexico.

What is unique is that the virus, having made the "jump" from animals to humans, is now being transmitted via direct human-to-human contact.

Keep reading after the jump for more on how this has developed so far, who's at risk, how to protect yourself if you are at risk, and websites celebrating swine influenza's outbreak as a harbinger of the apocalypse.

Stephanie continues:

Keiji Fukuda, acting assistant general for health, security and environment at the World Health Organization, stated, "it's quite possible for this virus to evolve and become more dangerous to people."

People infected with the H1N1 strain will initially suffer generalized flu like symptoms, such as:

* Fever
* Muscle and joint pain
* Sore throat
* Malaise
* Cough
* Difficulty breathing

This strain of flu may progress to a serious respiratory illness within about five days.

Traveling to Mexico? Make sure your vaccinations are up to date, pay special attention to hand washing especially after coughing or sneezing, covering coughs and sneezes and stay home if you're feeling sick. The CDC also suggests you pay attention to local government announcements and follow any issued public health guidelines on your trip. Watch for any signs and symptoms of the flu upon returning home.

Reliable sources of information regarding the H1N1 influenza virus are:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The World Health Organization. And in Spanish, Secretaria de Salud del gobierno de Mexico.

Meanwhile, the UNRELIABLE sources are in full bloom. Rightwing and survivalist commentary ranges from decrying the swine flu as a bio-terror attack (Terror Pigs?) to celebrating this as the beginning of the Rapture.

www.raptureready.com and www.sodahead.com are the two with pretty clear blogs/Q&A portions dealing with the swine flu and end of the world issues.

UPDATE, April 27, 930am PT: First, per the CDC this morning – there is no reason to get a flu shot if you do not have symptoms. The current attenuated virus vaccines will not protect you – so the mask, hand washing, being aware of surroundings/people w/ symptoms is the only prevention – or not traveling (for now) to Mexico. There is a mid-to moderately high chance this will reach Guatemala this week – but it is really hard to tell – depends on the numbers of people coming/going from Mexico.

Also, at least to Mexico – the State Dept. will be issuing a Travel Advisory for Mexico – all "non essential" travel to be halted….

email questions or comments to: stefletcher AT earthlink DOT net