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Issue 73: When Pigs Fly

A recent Associated Press report gives a gloomy prediction. We may be in for several months of contending with the swine flu, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts will affect up to 40% of Americans this year and next year. But that’s not all. The World Health Organization (WHO) projects the swine flu will affect about 2 billion people—a third of the world’s population.

Additional projections say the swine flu could take the lives of anywhere from 90,000 to several hundred thousand during the next two years. Like all flu strains, however, it’s impossible to accurately predict the outcome. Many experts base projections on past flu pandemics, while others simply don’t want to weigh in on any forecasting because the flu’s notoriously unpredictable.  

One thing’s for sure, though, regular flu season is a force to be reckoned with, too, and results in about 36,000 deaths a year. The swine flu is a different breed, though.

It’s a new virus, so most people have no immunity to it--hitting teens, young adults and those with underlying health conditions the hardest. Regular flu, on the other hand, usually targets the young, the elderly and the chronically ill—no matter what age.  

The swine flu has already likely infected about one million Americans, produced over 44,000 laboratory-identified cases and killed over 350 people in our country, according to the CDC. Each week, those numbers increase, which indicates the swine flu’s uncanny ability to spread during the summer months—something experts are keeping a close eye on.

Health officials, hurrying to create immunizations, believe we haven’t seen the peak effect of this virus. They project cases to skyrocket in the fall when schools—places they refer to as “germ factories”—resume classes. (The military, nursing homes and daycare centers are ripe breeding grounds for the virus, too.)

Health officials will most likely push flu shots—something often debated—as well as avoiding crowded places, proper hand washing and covering your mouth with a tissue when you cough. That’s because you can get the flu if you breathe in infected droplets from someone with the virus or if you touch a contaminated surface and then touch your hand to your eyes, mouth or nose.

Viruses can be tenacious, too. Some are able to live from 20 minutes to 2 hours or more on surfaces like desks, cell phones, money, cafeteria tables, doorknobs, computer keyboards, hand towels and dish towels—so be sure you protect yourself.

You may also want to keep your immune system in tip-top shape, as those with weakened immune systems are at risk for complications from the flu. Immune levels can change due to diet, stress, rest and other factors, so be sure you are taking the best care of yourself in these areas. 

We need to do a better job with hand washing, too.

A survey says many Americans are lax in hand hygiene: 43% seldom or never wash their hands after coughing or sneezing; 32% don’t always wash before eating lunch and 54% don’t wash their hands long enough to effectively remove germs and dislodge dirt.

Additionally, you need to stay home if you’re sick. An astounding 35% of U.S. workers surveyed said they feel pressured to go to work when they have the flu; 58% said co-workers come to work sick or with the flu and 30% say they contracted the flu from a co-worker.  Meanwhile, 52% of employees surveyed said their organization doesn’t have a plan in place to prevent the spread of flu in the workplace.

The bottom line is this: It looks like we might be in for a wild ride with this new swine flu, so be sure to prepare as much as possible.


This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

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