On The Early Show Monday, medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton answered some of the most common questions people are asking:
How is this strain different from a regular flu?
"A couple of things. There are four genetic materials comprised into one hybrid here. There's bird flu, pig flu from two different sources and the human influenza virus. So, it just makes it much more difficult to kind of pinpoint. (It's) never (been) seen before. That's one thing making it very significant."
It's been deadly in Mexico, but not as yet in the United States. Do we know why that is?
"It's unclear. First of all, there might not have been enough cases in the U.S. yet to reach that point, number one. Number two: There might be other factors at play. The health of the people who have become ill and subsequently died in Mexico might be different than the health of our patients. We're looking at it all very closely."
We know, even if we got a flu shot this year, we're not necessarily protected, and they're saying the symptoms are very similar to those of regular flu. At what point should I go to the doctor?
"They have the same symptoms. High fever, body aches, cough, runny nose. If you have those symptoms for 24 to 48 hours and you are getting worse and not better, or you have an underlying medical condition that might put you at higher risk of the complications of influenza, you should see your doctor. Otherwise, supportive care, stay home, and let time pass."
Do I need to demand that my doctor treat me for it?
"They will test for it. But you don't want to send too many people too quickly for just a regular viral syndrome to get tested, because that would overwhelm the (healthcare) system.
Is there any way to know the difference? What if I suddenly take ill? Should I immediately panic?
"Absolutely not. I mean, you really need to give this time. Most of the cases here, again, have been mild, and these viral syndromes do tend to be self-limiting. So really, do not panic at this point."
What should I be doing right now to protect my family? And is anyone in my family more susceptible?
"We don't know the answer to that. That's one of the things people are looking at. But the basic precautions apply. So, if you're exposed to someone who's sick, you want to try to stay as far away from them as possible. Hand-washing is very important because, actually, even though the particles are aerosolized and respiratory droplets, you actually expose yourself by touching your hands to your face. And, you know, the basic precautions apply.
What if I'm feeling symptoms, and go see the doctor. What does testing entail?
"What they're doing right now at your doctor's office or the emergency room, if necessary, is a nasal swab, on which they get the results back very quickly, usually within an hour. If it comes back type "A," then they know that they have the influenza strain. If they cannot get a type on it, that raises the suspicion that this might be the swine flu. It's then sent to the CDC (federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) for further testing."
This is treatable, right?
It's susceptible to Tamiflu and Relenza if given early in the course of the illness.
Should I just start taking them if I think I might have swine flu?
"That's not a good idea. These medications have some side effects. You really should not be taking them unless you've been seen by your doctor and tested positive."
Are protective surgical masks in order and, if so, for whom and when?
"Right now, the CDC is recommending that only when absolutely necessary, if you are in contact with a person who is infectious or has been diagnosed with this flu, you want to get what's called an N-95 mask. A regular surgical mask can offer some protection (but N-95 is more effective in keeping out the smallest infectious particles). This is one piece of the puzzle and we want to emphasize, masks are not recommended for the general public at this point."
Can I get swine flu from eating pork?
"No. That's the good news."
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