Monday, April 27, 2009

Swine Flu Epidemic Update 1

The World Health Organization has raised their alert level from three to four out of a possible of six. Level four means that human to human transmission of the virus is possible. This characteristic increases, but does not guarantee, a worldwide pandemic. The number of people that died from suspected swine flu has risen in Mexico to 149, but not all are confirmed cases yet. In Canada, six cases have been concerned. Other cases have been reported and some confirmed in other countries around the world. In the U.S., 40 cases have been confirmed, with the results pending for a number of cases. Thankfully, no fatalities have been reported in the U.S. so far.

Locally, a group of 22 high school seniors from Newberry Academy in Newberry, South Carolina are awaiting their test results. They were in Cancun, Mexico for spring break. The Academy is a private school.

My neighbor came over to my house and asked me what she could do for her family. I recommended several steps. She should read a reputable source each day to know what's going on. She and her family should practice preventative techniques for infections. Avoid close contact with people who appear ill with respiratory or gastrointestinal symptoms. Watch what you touch whether it be your body or in your environment. Wash your hands with soap and nasal passages with saline rinses routinely. Use a N95 mask. She interrupted and said her kids won't do it because they feel stupid. I replied this is a cultural response common in America. People are very subconscious about what they think other people will think about them and act based on these thoughts rather than take unpleasant, preventative steps. In other countries, there is a lot less resistance to wearing the "blue masks." If you think you are infected, then go to a doctor's office soon, where you can be tested. Don't assume you have swine flu and demand antiviral medicine without confirmation. There is a limited supply of medicine. You have only 3-5 days before the disease has progressed too far and the antivirals will not help anymore.

Regrettably, in my office, we have already exhausted our supply of influenza test kits. This potential epidemic has caused a surge in demand for the test kits. We have to wait to get more. So the lesson is to ask when you make the appointment if the doctor's office is able to test for influenza. Again, regrettably, in my office, we recommend patients go to their primary care doctor, until the situation has changed. Based on the principle above, it is not acceptable to simply prescribe an antiviral for every single person coming to our office. If even a virus is diagnosed, I recommended they enforce preventative steps within the home, because now with person-to-person transmission possible, the risk is high for other family members.

More to follow, as I get news....

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