BY JAMES RAHAL, M.D.
Director, Infection Disease Division, Department of Medicine
New York Hospital Queens
As President Obama aptly explained, the swine flu outbreak “is a cause for concern and requires a heightened state of alert, but it’s not a cause for alarm.”
Common sense should serve as the first line of defense concerning the swine flu.
Know the facts. I recommend that people who are concerned with the swine flu learn all they need to know from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The web site is www.cdc.gov/swineflu.
These are the tips you can follow to help reduce infection:
? Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
? Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
? Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
? Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
? If you get sick with influenza, the CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.
Emergency department staff at New York Hospital Queens say that many patients who have come in are anxious and worried. In the face of this new outbreak of influenza, the people have a right to be concerned for their health and that of their loved ones. The best course of action is to go about your daily business, but stay cautious.
Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. Wash with soap and warm water for 15 to 20 seconds. When soap and water are not available, alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers may be used. You can find them in most supermarkets and drugstores. If using gel, rub your hands until the gel is dry. The gel doesn’t need water to work; the alcohol in it kills the germs on your hands.
If you become ill with flu-like symptoms, including fever, body aches, runny nose, sore throat, nausea, or vomiting or diarrhea, you may want to contact your personal doctor, particularly if you are worried about your symptoms. Your doctor will determine whether influenza testing or treatment is needed. If you are sick, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people as much as possible to keep from spreading your illness to others. Clearly, do not go to work or school if ill.
The symptoms that require urgent medical attention, such as a visit to the emergency room, include in children:
? Fast breathing or trouble breathing
? Bluish skin color
? Not drinking enough fluids
? Not waking up or not interacting
? Not wanting to be held
? Flu-like symptoms that improve but return with fever and worse cough
? Fever with a rash
In adults, those symptoms that require urgent medical attention are:
? Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
? Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
? Sudden dizziness
? Severe or persistent vomiting
Those with previously existing health conditions like emphysema or heart failure should seek immediate medical attention if affected by any flu-like symptoms. Swine flu should be treated with the same precautions as any other type of influenza virus.