Swine Flu Can Be Prevented
Experts explain flu concerns to Scholastic Kid Reporters
Dr. Pedro Piedra talks about how to prevent swine flu infections with Scholastic Kid Reporter Brittney Sheena. Dr. Piedra is Professor of Molecular Virology and Microbiology and Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine. He has been studying influenza for more than 20 years. (Photo courtesy Brittney and Michelle Sheena)
So what exactly is the swine flu and how concerned should we all be about its spread? Scholastic Kid Reporters Michelle and Brittney Sheena recently spoke to two infectious disease experts in Houston, Texas, to find some answers. Texas is one of the states hardest hit by the flu, which originated in Mexico. Texas and Mexico share a border and many citizens from both travel freely between the two.
While the swine flu is dangerous, it can be prevented, says Dr. Melanie Mouzoon, Managing Physician for Immunization and Travel Medicine, Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. Kid Reporters also spoke to Ed Septimus, Medical Director Infection Prevention HCA Healthcare System and Pedro Piedra, Professor of Molecular Virology and Microbiology and Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine.
How It Spreads
Because swine flu is a virus, it is spread from person to person, Dr. Mouzoon explained. Like other viruses, it is spread by respiratory droplets caused by coughing and sneezing. When a person who is infected coughs or sneezes, the droplets are propelled through the air and can infect someone who is nearby. You can also get the flu by touching objects that have been contaminated with the virus.
Dr. Mouzoon explained how swine flu may have been transmitted from pigs to humans.
“Most likely, someone who had contact with infected pigs also had a form of human flu,” she said. “When two flu viruses infect the same cell, their genetic material can get mixed up and create a new combination flu virus.”
The current strain of swine flu virus also has some avian flu genes. It is possible, she explained, that the pig which started the infection had avian plus swine flu.
“[And that pig] gave the combo to a person with flu, who passed it on unknowingly to other people,” she said.
Two Vaccine Doses Recommended
Since this new strain of swine flu is a hybrid of three different viruses, the flu vaccine currently on the market does not affect it, said Dr. Ed Septimus. It takes about six months to develop a new vaccine for a new virus.
The doctors recommended, however, that everyone should get a flu shot this spring, especially if you did not get one in the fall. Young children under the age of seven should definitely get a second dose.
“For young children who did not get the recommended second dose, a second dose now may help them get better protection from a swine flu vaccine once one is available,” Dr. Mouzoon said.
Signs of the swine flu are similar to signs of the seasonal influenza. Symptoms can include fever, tiredness, poor appetite, coughing, sneezing, sore throat, and headache. You might also have nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
Two different antiviral medicines are effective against this flu: Tamiflu and Relenza. Both are available by prescription.
Medications should begin in the first 24 to 48 hours after the illness starts, so if you think that you might be ill, you should seek medical advice. Doctors can collect a swab from the nose or throat within the first week of illness to confirm the virus. The specimen will then be sent to the health department or CDC for confirmation.
Infected people can pass on the infection one day prior to having symptoms. They can also remain contagious for up to a week for adults and two weeks for children. If you have any symptoms, you should stay home to prevent the illness from spreading, the doctors told Scholastic Kid Reporters.
So far, precautions against spreading the disease seem to be working.
“There is concern, but no need to panic,” Dr. Septimus said. “The CDC and health officials are working well together to protect the public.
For more information on swine flu and its prevention, visit the CDC swine flu Web site.
Join The Discussion!
Find out how schools in Central Texas are dealing with the swine flu threat. What is you school doing to help prevent swine flu from spreading? Send us your comments on the Scholastic Kids Press Corps Blog.
Michelle Sheena is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.