For the last several days, the media and blogosphere have been discussing almost nonstop the recent H1N1 flu virus outbreak (or "swine flu," as it's previously been called). If you're following the news, you've probably heard the numbers: As of May 8, 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed H1N1 in 43 states, for a total of 1,639 U.S. cases, including two deaths. Worldwide (including U.S. numbers), the World Health Organization has confirmed 2,500 cases in 25 countries, including 44 deaths in Mexico.
According to CDC's acting director, Richard E. Bresser, MD, in the New York Times, "About 5 percent of the people with confirmed cases have been hospitalized [including 35 of the 1,639 U.S. cases]. That is a much higher proportion than normal for seasonal flu, and the median age is 15, which is unusually young. But because some states are now testing only seriously ill patients for the novel virus, such skewing of the data is to be expected."
The responses to the outbreak so far have been varied. Early on, Egypt ordered the slaughter of its 300,000 to 350,000 pigs — though no cases of the virus had been reported in the country at that time. In New York and other states, schools issued temporary closings after students were confirmed to have caught the virus. In other cases, travelers have cancelled vacations, either after hearing of cases at their destination, or to avoid possible exposure from other travelers en route. As a general precaution, the CDC has posted a quick list of tips for staying well:
"What You Can Do to Stay Healthy
1. Stay informed. The [CDC] website will be updated regularly as information becomes available.
2. Influenza is thought to spread mainly person-to-person through coughing or sneezing of infected people.
3. Take everyday actions 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.
- Stay home if you get sick. CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.
4. Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds and other social distancing measures.
5. Find healthy ways to deal with stress and anxiety.
6. Call 1-800-CDC-INFO for more information."
The CDC also has posted general information about H1N1; flu updates; safety information for specific groups, such as pregnant women, child care providers and others; and more.
How worried are you about H1N1? Are you and your family doing anything differently in response to the outbreak?