Friday, May 8, 2009

As "swine flu" excitement fades, hand washing should still remain

Good news, everyone!  We have not seen the End of Days due to pandemic "swine flu" in the past week, and society still stands!

What we have seen is the expected progression of cases into Maryland, and a more detailed picture of an illness that in most respects, is not much different than seasonal influenza in terms of severity. There are currently 23 confirmed cases in Maryland, and 4 more reported as "suspected or probable." Of these, 3 of the confirmed cases and 1 unconfirmed case are in Baltimore county. There have been no fatalities in Maryland, and only 2 deaths out of the the 2254 cases confirmed nationwide.

As discussed last week, the swine-origin influenza virus isn't causing severe disease in most people. The vast majority who do get sick are having mild symptoms and an uncomplicated illness. That noted, there are still areas of concern. Those who do get seriously ill are more likely to be healthy young adults and children, than with seasonal influenza, which usually affects the very young and the very old more severely. Also, this virus does appear to have the potential for efficient, rapid spread among populations. This means that future mutations to the virus that increase it's infectivity and the severity of illness it causes could result in a pandemic situation.

As "swine flu" slowly fades from the headlines, our attention to the basic, simple things we can do to prevent getting and transmitting diseases like influenza must not similarly fade from our daily lives. Always be sure to wash your hands often, especially after being in a public place and before touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. When sick, wash your hands after coughing, sneezing, or wiping your nose. Cough or sneeze into the crook of your arm instead of your hands when possible, or an immediately disposable paper tissue. Also, stay away from crowded living areas, and avoid close contact with other people.

The medical community still has much work ahead in tracking and study this swine-origin influenza outbreak. Vaccine possibilities are being considered, although whether this will eventually be worked into the yearly seasonal influenza vaccine or be separate is still to be determined.

Continuously updated information can continue to be found on the websites of the Maryland DHMH, the CDC, and the WHO.

And of course, wash your hands.

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