SWINE FLU OUTBREAK: Avoid infection with clean hands, common sense: Health officials

Pigs are seen on a farm run by Granjas Carroll de Mexico on the outskirts of Xicaltepec in Mexico’s Veracruz state Monday. Mexico’s Agricultural Department said its inspectors found no sign of swine flu among pigs around the farm in Veracruz and that no infected pigs have been found yet anywhere in Mexico. AP Photo⁄Alexandre Meneghini
By Nathan Duke

The best ways for borough residents to protect themselves against the swine flu that has infected students from Fresh Meadows’ St. Francis Preparatory School are common−sense measures, such as keeping their hands clean and avoiding people who appear to be ill, the director of Flushing Hospital’s Pediatric Infectious Diseases unit said.

The flu has killed more than 150 people in Mexico and cases also have been found in California, Texas, Kansas, Ohio, several European nations and the Middle East. The outbreak is a new strain of an influenza virus that was first detected by public health agencies last month.

The virus, which combines several strains of influenza that are endemic in humans and pigs, can be transmitted from person to person.

David Di John, director of pediatric infectious diseases at Flushing Hospital, said the best method for Queens residents to avoid contracting the flu is to wash their hands.

“We always stress that as an infection control measure and people say, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’” he said. “But it’s the single−most important control measure. If someone coughs or sneezes, material could get into your eye or mouth. But they could sneeze or cough and the virus lands on a doorknob. If someone opens the door and then rubs their eye, they could get it.”

Di John said borough residents should also avoid people who are clearly sick. And residents who are sick should cough into an item that can be discarded rather than into their hands, he said.

Symptoms for the swine flu are similar to human influenza strains, including fever, coughing, chills, muscle aches, headache, vomiting and diarrhea.

“I don’t think anyone knows exactly what this virus is, but it’s clearly some form of mutated influenza virus,” Di John said. “The thing about flu viruses is they can mutate. So if multiple flu viruses of different animals get into one animal and incubate, a virus that emerges could be different from the one that entered. When you have one that can be transmitted from human to human, that’s when you have the potential for a pandemic. It could wreak havoc.”

But he said Queens residents should not panic. To contract the flu, a person would have to come into relatively close contact with a person who was infected. So far, no cases outside of the St. Francis community have been reported.

Di John said borough hospitals are becoming flooded with people who are concerned about the flu.

“The recommendation is that if you’re mildly ill, you probably don’t need medical care and should avoid going to an emergency room where there could be people who may be ill with this,” he said. “And if you’re not ill, you should go to work or school if they are open for business.”

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e−mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 156.

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