Swine Flu: What should you do right now?

I’m interrupting our series on Vaccines and Autism now to discuss the recent swine flu issues. My apologies to those looking forward to a picking-apart of Jim Carrey’s drivel today.

I’m going to be aiming my posts on swine flu at the general population; I’ll also be keeping them short and posting pretty regularly. If you find my coverage overly simplistic and you’d like a more technical breakdown, I highly recommend Effect Measure – the coverage on that blog is just excellent.

First things first:

Don’t panic.

That’s important. So I’ll say it again

Don’t panic!

There is a lot of media attention, and a lot of CDC activity trying to spread information right now. That’s not a bad thing! That’s the system in action – and it’s why the US right now, is better prepared for this outbreak than Mexico, or Indonesia. Mexican and Indonesian readers: it’s not an insult, but the public health systems in your respective countries just haven’t been prepared for a flu outbreak.

Right now, the hype isn’t because Swine Flu is killing more people than cancer. The hype is because this virus is new. Since the virus new, we don’t know exactly what to expect.

What should you do right now?

First, you should wash your hands, and then go buy a bottle of alcohol hand sanitizer that you can carry with you. It might look like this:

Why? Because the evidence says that this virus is spreading from person to person – from people sneezing on you, shaking hands with you after sneezing on their hands, etc. Wash your hands regularly, and use hand sanitizer when you can’t wash your hands, with that alone you can do a lot to prevent the spread of almost infections you come into contact with. Swine flu is just another flu virus. The flu virus spread through respiratory secretions – stuff that comes out of your lungs. Sometimes it’s the stuff you’ve wiped onto your hands. If you’ve wiped it onto your hands – wash your hands! Especially if you’re working with other people, wash your hands! Even if you don’t work with people, wash your hands!

You can still eat pork. Respiratory secretions are NOT in your pork chop, delicious pork is in your pork chop. You cannot get swine flu from eating a ham sandwich.

If you’re feeling sick, stay home! Another reason the flu virus is so quickly passed around is that people come to work sick and sneeze all over everyone. Then things spread. Also, cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze, preferably with a tissue paper, then throw the tissue paper away. After that… wash your hands!

Now that has a flip side. Just because you haven’t seen someone sick, doesn’t mean you haven’t been exposed to something. Viruses have an incubation period, where you have the virus, and can conceivably spread the virus, but you don’t LOOK like you have the virus… yet.

Just having the sniffles does not mean you have swine flu. If you are a little sick, don’t panic! A quick guideline: If you have high fevers (>100.4 F, or 38C) – use a thermometer!), respiratory symptoms (runny nose, dry cough, or sore throat), muscle aches, fatigue, and you’ve been sick longer than 2 days go see a doctor! But if you just have the sniffles, don’t go to the doctor, you have more to lose by exposing yourself to sick people there!

 What shouldn’t you do? Don’t panic. Don’t go buy homeopathic remedies for flu prevention – even hyped up water is just water. I mention this because more than 1 person has reached this blog in the last day by googling “homeopathic swine flu prophylaxis”. Don’t go buy “alt med” preparations to save you from the flu. They don’t work!

Next up: What exactly is going on?

If you’d like more information right away, the CDC has put up a pretty informative website here.

Please note: I will be taking an especially heavy hand to the comments in any swine flu related post. This is a public health matter, and there is no room for hysteria. You may have a right to free speech, but you cannot shout fire in a theater. That’s how I’ll be treating any comments that I deem ridiculous. If you have a legitimate fear, please voice it, and I’ll respond if appropriate. If you post some ridiculous theory about how this is all a government conspiracy to boost Tamiflu sales, or some such crap, I’m banning right away, I’m not in the mood to suffer fools lightly.

Explore posts in the same categories: Education, Medicine, Swine flu

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14 Comments on “Swine Flu: What should you do right now?”

  1. JLK Says:

    From the CDC page you linked:

    “yesterday the Secretary of the Department Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, declared a public health emergency in the United States.”

    Why do they do that if they don’t want people to freak out? I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but it’s just the goddamn flu – is it really a “public health emergency?”

    I personally feel that nothing less than a biochemical weapons attack or the Black Plague should be declared a public health “emergency.”


    • I know thats provocative language.
      Declaring something a public health emergency releases certain federal funds to help take care of the problem, which is why it’s reasonable.

      I linked to a post by Greg Laden in the quick links on saturday, that goes over the WHO levels for this sort of outbreak. We are still at level 3 (of 6), and some people could reasonably argue that we should be at a 4. You really don’t need to freak out until level 5 or 6.

      Level 3 more or less means that we have a new virus, and there is evidence that it is spreading person to person.

      • JLK Says:

        But according to the info, only 2 people in the US have died from a swine flu in the past 21 years, and one of them actually died from pneumonia that resulted as a complication from the flu – not technically the flu itself.

        So I just really don’t get why anyone would be freaking out. It’s not like it’s smallpox.


        • Absolutely correct, and thats why this post could more or less be summarized like this:
          “what should you do about swine flu?”
          “not much, the same crap you should be doing anyway, but aren’t”

          As for why they really are afraid, I promise the post will be up soon, I’m a suprisingly slow writer.

  2. JLK Says:

    Oh, don’t worry about it. Please don’t feel pressured by me. I just didn’t know about this swine flu thing until I saw your post and PalMD’s and so I wondered what the big deal was.

    I have never had a flu vaccination in my life (I feel they should be saved for the people who really need them) and I have never had the flu. (I should say “that I know of” – I never go to the doctor for flu-like symptoms. I feel like it’s a waste of money and time when a combination of Aleve Cold & Sinus and Nyquil will do the trick.) I feel pretty confident that my avoidance of antibiotics and antivirals have made my immune system pretty diesel. That, and the fact that I was sick like constantly when I was little….

    • Dan Says:

      I don’t think you need to worry about saving flu vaccines. It’s not like there’s a finite supply of them, they can make more. It’s great that your immune system is pretty diesel – I say this only because I’m all for herd immunity and vaccines in general.

      Also, I love your use of the word “diesel” in this context. That’s quite awesome.


    • If you’re reasonably health, between the ages of 5 and 55, and get some rest, there’s really not much that can be done to treat flu, except for managing the symptoms.

      I always get a flu shot, since I like preventing my getting diseases wherever possible. I haven’t had the flu in about 15 years, so my guess is that if it becomes an epidemic, I’m not going to be happy for a few days. I think I’ve forgotten what it feels like to have the flu.

    • catgirl Says:

      A few years ago there was a shortage of flu vaccines, so I can understand your reasoning. But most years they are not limited. I get one every year because it protects others and not just me. If I don’t have the flu, then I can’t spread it to someone who is susceptible. I also won’t spread it to a healthy person who would then spread it to a person who would be more at risk of dying from it.


  3. [...] Beyond the Short Coat Medicine – Soft on Patients, Hard on Woo! « Swine Flu: What should you do right now? [...]


  4. Obama just made these comments about the swine flu to the National academy of sciences:

    We are closely monitoring the emerging cases of swine flu in the United States. This is obviously a cause for concern and requires a heightened state of alert. But it is not a cause for alarm. The Department of Health and Human Services has declared a Public Health Emergency as a precautionary tool to ensure that we have the resources we need at our disposal to respond quickly and effectively. I’m getting regular updates on the situation from the responsible agencies, and the Department of Health and Human Services as well as the Centers for Disease Control will be offering regular updates to the American people so that they know what steps are being taken and what steps they may need to take. But one thing is clear – our capacity to deal with a public health challenge of this sort rests heavily on the work of our scientific and medical community. And this is one more example of why we cannot allow our nation to fall behind.

    Unfortunately, that is exactly what has happened.

    Two points. First, he’s saying don’t panic. Let me repeat that, don’t panic. And second, it’s so nice to have a president who puts science before ideology.

  5. JLK Says:

    I probably should clarify that every year on the news in my home state, they report a shortage of flu vaccines for the elderly and young children with low incomes.

    Also, my job is based out of my home office, and the “outside” portion of my job has me visiting elementary and middle schools – so if I get even the slightest bit sick, I don’t go ANYWHERE. I understand that most people are not in this type of situation, so I respect that others feel the need to get flu vaccines.

  6. here2Love Says:

    Lots of lies out there. Check out of what this flu vaccine is made of. Vaccine is what is bad 4 you.
    few links:

    have no fear have love :-)


    • Oh my.

      I don’t know if you’ve actually read my blog, but anti-vac comments are not appreciated. The vaccine is safe, and made of the same things as all of the other seasonal influenza virus vaccines. There are about 50000 scientific studies that show the influenza vaccine is indeed helpful at the population level.


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