But now, as all of you know, the pesky pathogen has performed a new sort of quick change trick. This latest viral transformation apparently occurred in the pig farms of Mexico, and the resultant strain strings together genetic material from human, swine, and avian sources into a novel hybrid to which none of us are immune. This 'swine flu' has produced serious illness in its country of origin, and now the whole world watches in nervous anticipation as it continues its spread.
Let's get the good news out right up front. First of all, flu is seasonal, and the season here is nearly over. While this new strain of flu may resurface next winter, its current run could well be brief. And scientists will have time to develop an effective vaccine before its next world tour. Secondly, the cases thus far identified in the US and abroad have generally been mild and self-limited.
And finally, this swine flu is sensitive to two standard anti-virals--Tamiflu and Relenza. Remember, however, that not only can influenza pull off genetic mixology to produce an entire new strain, it also can acquire the genes for immunity to these drugs. If enough of us twitch and take Tamiflu at the first sign of any viral illness, be it flu, croup, or the common cold, this acquired resistance will be a sure thing. So don't call your doctor for a 'just in case' prescription; Adele and I will say "NO!"
The flu is highly contagious; it's effectively spread by tiny respiratory droplets which remain suspended in air and settled on surfaces for some time after an unrestrained sneeze or cough. Good prevention practices include:
- Cough or sneeze into your sleeve. Using your hands or a tissue to contain your explosion just makes more objects infectious.
- Better yet, stay home with your secretions when ill, and don't expect affected employees or co-workers to crawl on in to work when they are unwell.
- Wash your hands frequently, and don't touch your face or handle food after touching shared surfaces until you've washed up.
- Practice good health habits to enhance your overall immunity and resistance.
- Ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels, and then discuss supplements with her/him to bring yours up to the ideal range. Influenza is increasingly considered a vitamin D deficiency disease!