Tuesday, April 28, 2009

ANSWERING YOUR QUESTIONS

WED 29 APRIL - 9:00 AM. Today's quick links: For a worldmap view of current confirmed or suspected cases, view this BBC report as of 6:30 AM 4/29. Educators and health professionals should find useful the following two documents from the CDC: a 1-page poster called "Ounce of Prevention" and a more specific brochure on Seven Keys to a Healthier Home. This third document is a much larger PDF file from the US Dept of Education, and thoroughly discusses all considerations for pandemic preparation in the school community.
TODAY'S Q & A THEME: INFLUENZA AND YOU
1. How is pandemic flu different from seasonal flu?
Visit this pop-up from the US portal pandemicflu.gov for quick definitions. As widely reported in the media, seasonal flu claims over 30,000 victims per year in the U.S. alone, but the vast majority of those cases are the very young, elderly and those with weakened immune symptoms or have a pre-existing illness. While this strain of influenza has not been confirmed as a pandemic, it is exhibiting similar characteristics. Those include a short incubation period (24-48 hours), most victims are healthy teenagers or adults ranging in age from 16 (the median age of infections) to people in their 50's. Seasonal flu traditionally follows the change of seasons, starting in the fall, reaching mid- to late-winter peak, and fading into summer. Pandemic flu can occur at any time of the year, and has historically traversed the globe in several waves in six- to eight-week periods each. It is uncertain at this time if we are currently experiencing the first wave of a possible pandemic.
2. Why is "washing hands" a good first line of defense? What about hand sanitizer?
According to WebMD, the physical and chemical interactions of soap, water and abrasion creating by rubbing your hands together not only kills most bacteria and viruses, it eliminates them from the surface of your hands. That's provided you scrub 20 seconds or more. Hint: Sing the Happy Birthday song twice, and the job is done! According to the CDC and the Mayo Clinic, hand sanitizers containing at least 60 percent alcohol are as effective as hand-washing.
3. Can I catch this virus from eating pork? Why did some countries ban pork imports?
A chorus of medical and agricultural professionals have made it clear the transmission pathways of viruses like these are NOT through handling or eating pork. For that to occur, the virus would have to somehow survive the slaughtering, processing and cooking. The CDC states "Swine influenza viruses are not transmitted by food. You can not get swine influenza from eating pork or pork products...Cooking pork to an internal temperature of 160°F kills the swine flu virus as it does other bacteria and viruses." The current strains of H5N1 avian influenza produce a different outcome, as we all heard reports of people in Southeast Asia and elsewhere falling ill from eating improperly cooked chicken. US and Mexican officials have expressed great displeasure at those countries whom have irresponsibly projected a link between swine products and suspectibility of the current influenza strain.
4. Does the appearance of "mild cases" in the US mean the worst has passed?
Historians and disease researchers alike point to similarities between this outbreak and previous global epidemics, and those indications tell us a trend could be developing. As Dr. Michael Osterholm from the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy said on April 25, 2009, "Milder cases, on one hand, are good, but that may mean little," Osterholm said, adding that, during the first wave of the 1918 influenza pandemic in the spring, many cases were mild, but by late July and early August, the virus caused widespread, severe illness. Source: CIDRAP.
5. How might this affect school schedules since we're so close to June?
President Obama is reported by Reuters as asking schools "to consider closing" if there is a confirmed or even suspected case. The short- and long-term impacts of these decisions are nearly imcomprehensible for most of us. But the Dept of Health and Human Services has a detailed links on strategies for preparation, mitigation and likely impacts of system-wide school closures. The MD Dept of Mental Health and Hygiene conducted a strategy session in 2006 on how to deal with these issues and it provides excellent insight on the challenges.
With increasing awareness of the rapidly evolving flu outbreak, we all will have many valid and sensible questions. This site has been redesigned to provide accurate, reliable information aimed at addressing those questions. We're all on a collective global learning curve, so the teachable moment for everyone is now. As time permits, you will notice answers being added to emphasize authentic scientifically-based or government-supported sources. Any of you are welcome to hunt down sources and references yourself and post in the comments. In addition, feel free to post new questions there or to me directly by email (footsforecast@comcast.net) and we address those in upcoming Q & A sessions.

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