The recent outbreak of a new and dangerous strain of flu-- being referred to as "swine flu", though the genetic makeup of the virus is actually a combination of material from pigs, humans and birds--has health officials around the globe on alert. Mexico officials confirm 20 deaths from this particular flu strain, with another 1,004 suspected cases of the illness around the country. The United States has reported eight cases of the swine flu.
The flu can be highly contagious and transferring an outbreak from one city, country or hemisphere to another is a concern given the ubiquity and ease of global travel. Governments around the world are carefully monitoring the health data and stocking up on medicine. But what can an individual do to protect against this dangerous disease? A little research turns up some advice:
(1) Wash your hands. Wash hands frequently, throroughly and completely with soap and hot water and make sure to scrub under your nails.
(2) Keep your home and work area clean. Don't forget those computer keyboards!
(3) Avoid hospitals unless it's an absolute medical emergency. Hospitals are rife with infections.
(4) Limit physical contact. Forego the usual kiss on the cheek for a hearty hello. If you are feeling sick, be a good citizen and limit your exposure to other people. Cover your face and use tissues when coughing or sneezing, then repeat (1).
(5) If you have flu-like symptoms, get help early. There is no vaccine to protect against this strain of the flu, so even if you have had a flu shot, you are not protected. However, according to the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), two medicines, Tamiflu and Relenza, are effective against the swine flu, but are best if given as soon as possible after the onset of symptoms.
Symptoms of the flu include: fever, lethargy, lack of appetite, coughing, runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
(6) Stay tuned. The situation is evolving rapidly and news outlets are giving constant updates. Check in regularly to make sure you're aware of the latest information and advisories.