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May 6, 2009

Swine Flu Protection and Precautions

Michael Kurtianyk

As of this writing there are over one thousand confirmed cases of the Influenza A (H1N1) virus, commonly known as Swine Flu (more on this gentle misnomer later). The majority of the cases are in Mexico and the United States.


Locally, Rockville High School has closed its doors until further notice by orders from Maryland and Montgomery County health officials, due to a probable swine flu case. School officials do not yet know how long the school will be closed.


The suspected case of Swine Flu has not yet been confirmed by the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. All extra-curricular activities are cancelled until further notice also. Rockville High students cannot participate in any home or away events held on school property until further notice.


According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site (, there is no risk of infection from this virus from consumption of well-cooked pork and pork products. It is considered prudent for people who are ill to delay international travel, and for people developing symptoms following international travel to seek medical attention, in line with guidance from national authorities. Individuals are advised to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water on a regular basis and seek medical attention if they develop any symptoms of influenza-like illness. WHO advises no restriction of regular travel or the closure of borders.


Annually, 36,000 Americans die of influenza. Early signs of Influenza A (H1N1) are flu-like, including fever, cough, headache, muscle and joint pain, sore throat and runny nose, and sometimes vomiting and/or diarrhea.


This is by no means a pandemic, defined as occurring when a new influenza virus appears against which the human population has no immunity, resulting in epidemics worldwide with enormous numbers of deaths and illness. The most severe influenza pandemic occurred in 1918 -1919 and caused an estimated 40–50 million deaths worldwide.


The 1918 flu received its nickname "Spanish Flu" because Spain, a neutral country in World War I, had no special censorship for news about the disease and its consequences. Hence the most reliable news came from Spain, giving the false impression that Spain was the most – if not the only – affected zone.


As for the gentle misnomer of calling this outbreak “Swine Flu,” American agriculture officials want to change the name for the virus to “Influenza A (H1N1).” The problem is that the name "swine flu" suggests a problem with pork products.


Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack points out that the virus is not food-borne and has nothing to do with consuming pork products. He said he wants Americans and citizens of other countries to know that no American pigs have tested positive for swine flu, that it is "perfectly" safe to eat pork from the U.S. Former Iowa Governor Vilsack said he's concerned that misunderstandings could have a negative impact on farmers who provide pork products to consumers around the world. He said the American hog industry is sound and that consumers everywhere should know that U.S. pork products are safe.


Secretary Vilsack did not address that the name “Swine Flu” usually refers to influenza caused by those virus strains that usually infect pigs. Transmission of swine influenza virus from pigs to humans is not common and it is likely that cooked pork poses no risk of infection. When transmitted, it does not always cause human influenza.


Treatment for the Influenza A (H1N1) virus suggests that for people with mild cases of influenza, doctors may not provide any medicine. The treatment is just to stay home, stay away from other people, and rest. Mild Influenza A (H1N1) (swine flu) may go away on its own after a week or two. If a person gets very sick with Influenza A H1N1, doctors may give antiviral, prescription medicines.


Locally, our daughters had participated in their First Holy Communion Ceremony this past weekend. As a precaution, Holy Family Catholic Community, with diocesan support, did not distribute wine with the bread. The concern was not with the wine itself (as it is likely that the alcohol content would negate the H1N1), but rather the lips touching the chalice and not being treated well enough by the Catechists. I suggested to the priests that they substitute vodka, but they laughed and said “No.” I then suggested mint juleps in honor of the Kentucky Derby, but they said no to that also. Alas….


Other precautions have to be the usual ones: avoid close contact with people who appear unwell and have fever and cough; wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly and often; practice good health habits including adequate sleep, eating nutritious food, and keeping physically active.


Let’s hope we don’t get any cases of Influenza A (H1N1) here in Frederick County.


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