Monday, April 27, 2009

Pigs on the Wing

Welcome to the return of the 1970s! I seem to recall getting a swine flu vaccination when I was in grammar school in 1976, the last time health officials thought there was going to be a pandemic (it didn't happen, but I think it pays to be prepared). Anyway, it confers no protection against the current strain, since "swine flu" can refer to any of a large number of viruses that typically infect swine and can occasionally be transmitted to humans. (By the way, swine flu cannot be contracted through eating pork, much to Homer Simpson's delight, methinks.)

LiveScience is running a four-part series this week on the myths and realities of the swine flu. Shorter version: try to avoid live pigs, which I think is just generally good advice anyway. There is no vaccine yet, and the CDC has identified only 20 cases in the U.S., none of which have proved fatal (Mexico has had far more cases, and fatal ones, and fatal ones among young, otherwise healthy people, for reasons no one quite understands). Swine flu is probably not worth freaking out over, but at the same time taking sensible precautions can keep it from becoming a serious, freak-outable issue. The CDC recommends some pretty common-sense preventive measures:
There are everyday actions people can take to stay healthy.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hands cleaners are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Influenza is thought to spread mainly person-to-person through coughing or sneezing of infected people.
  • If you get sick, CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.
The CDC's Q&A page is here. New Scientist has more. Scientific American has yet more.

Now, let's hope disco doesn't come back, which would be far worse.

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