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    Monday, April 27, 2009

    Swine Flu Virus-What I Tell My Patients

    Many of my patients are calling for more information about about the new Swine Flu. This is what I tell them.

    Pigs, birds, and humans are each susceptible to lots of influenza viruses. Typically, these viruses infect only one species. However, sometimes the viruses swap genes, creating new viruses that have the capacity to infect more than one species. That’s why having taken the human flu vaccine last season may theoretically help you in with this flu-but only a bit because this new strain of influenza virus has been identified as containing a combination of two parts swine, one part avian, and one part human influenza virus genes.

    How is this New Virus Transmitted?
    The World Health Organization and the CDC have confirmed that the new swine flu virus is transmitted between humans. It is not clear yet how transmissible it is, nor how it is transmitted. Almost surely, like other flu viruses, it can be transmitted by aerosol and by skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. There is no vaccine yet for the new virus.

    The 20 confirmed cases in the U.S. young students are all recovering (with only 1 case requiring hospitalization) in contrast to many of the deaths in Mexico which seem to have occurred in healthy young adults, a pattern seen in past pandemics — not young children and the frail elderly, as is most often seen with the flu.

    The usual precautions for patients apply:
    • Sneeze and cough into tissues and throw the tissues in the trash.
    • Wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand cleaners frequently.
    • On greeting people, don’t shake hands or exchange kisses.

    Contagious period

    People should be considered contagious until at least 7 days after the start of symptoms; with children, it may be 10–14 days. If a global pandemic ensues, governments may well close schools and public places, require as many people as possible to work from home, warn any people who develop symptoms to isolate themselves at home.More updated information from the CDC is available at

    The initial symptoms with this swine flu virus are like those with the annual flu viruses: fever, sore muscles, running nose, and sore throat. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may be more common with this flu than with regular flu. Also dizziness has been a prominent symptom. A symptom indicating a more severe disease is breathlessness. If this occurs seek medical attention immediately.

    The new virus is resistant to amantadine and rimantadine, but sensitive to oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza). Based on experience with other flu viruses, treatment would be most effective if given within two days of the onset of symptoms.


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