These days, H1N1, or “swine flu,” seems to be on everyone’s mind. But after so many comparisons to the 1918 pandemic, who could blame anyone for worrying?
With the media making such a fuss, I thought I’d help you separate the facts from the fiction. And to understand the simple precautions you can take to lessen your chances of catching the H1N1 virus – or any flu, for that matter.
What Is This Swine Flu, Anyway?
A virus is about as simple as living things get. Far simpler than bacteria. What the two have in common is that some types of each can make you very sick. But viruses, unlike bacteria, can only reproduce inside a host’s cells.
And that’s the problem with viruses. They invade your body, “borrow” your cells’ machinery and use it to make copies of itself. The microbes then typically break out of the cell and invade other cells, repeating the process over and over.
With all this destruction going on, you can see why catching a virus can be a bad thing.
But something else sometimes happens as a virus makes copies. Sometimes a copy mutates. Some of these mutations die. Others make a virus more dangerous. And still others may enable the virus to change hosts – such as moving from pigs to humans.
Three types of influenza virus – called types A, B and C – can infect humans. Types B and C stick strictly to people. But type A flu viruses can have both human and animal hosts. H1N1 is a type A flu. Based on its genetic code, many researchers believe H1N1 may have started in birds, moved to swine and then to humans.
However it got to us, since the spring of 2009, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that about 1 million people have already come down with swine flu. And many more cases are expected as the fall flu season kicks in.
Before I explain how you can cut your chances of becoming one of those new cases, let’s talk about symptoms, spread and a couple of other details.
Swine Flu Facts
If you come down with flu, you won’t really know if it’s H1N1 or seasonal flu. You’ll just know you’re sick. Seasonal flu and H1N1 can both cause coughing, fever, chills, aches, sore throat and fatigue. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are caused more often by H1N1 – but having one or more of these symptoms isn’t necessarily proof that you have swine flu.
H1N1 differs from seasonal flu in two other important ways. First, seasonal flu is especially hard on seniors and the very young. But H1N1 appears to affect them less often. In fact, there have been relatively few cases reported in people over age 60 or under age 5.
People who have a higher risk of complications from H1N1 are pregnant women, obese persons and anyone with an underlying medical condition, such as asthma.
Second, almost no one has a natural immunity to the H1N1 virus. That means the world’s population is at greater risk from swine flu. Right now, its symptoms are fairly mild, but mutations could result in a much worse situation.
That’s why protection is important. And your first step is to understand how swine flu spreads.
Lower Your Risk of Catching the Flu
Like other flu viruses, H1N1 spreads in droplets of body fluid we expel when coughing, sneezing or even just breathing. And, as with other flu viruses, a few commonsense precautions can provide you with a fair amount of protection.
These precautions include:
- Don’t sneeze into your hand. Ideally, use a tissue (not a handkerchief!). Otherwise, sneeze into the crook of your elbow. You aren’t likely to touch your elbow to your eyes, nose and mouth, which would give the virus entry to your body.
- Keep your hands away from your face (see above).
- Wash your hands frequently. Use soap and wash under warm water for at least 15 seconds. Don’t share towels – such as a hand towel hanging by the sink. Paper towels are more sanitary.
- If soap and water aren’t readily available, use an alcohol-based hand gel to clean your hands.
- Avoid crowds and close contact with anyone showing flu-like symptoms.
- If you must care for someone with a flu, wear a mask and dispose of it properly. Again, wash your hands frequently.
If you do show symptoms of the flu, stay home for a week. That’s about how long you’ll be contagious (beginning about one day before symptoms appear). Get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids. These steps will help make you more comfortable, and help your body fight the virus.
Of course, if you have a high or prolonged fever, difficulty breathing, heaviness in the chest or other serious symptoms, seek medical help immediately.
Swine flu is serious, but there’s no reason to panic. If you follow these simple guidelines, you’ll cut your risk of infection, and experience less discomfort if you do get sick.
Dr. Kenneth Woliner
Best Life Herbals
Statistics and other information from National Institutes of Health and World Health Organization websites: