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Experts expect flu pandemic at some point
Health advice
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Can you believe summer is almost over? I’m not ready for it to be over, although I might prefer it to be just a little cooler. I’m particularly not ready for the fall cold and flu season or the extra concern and preparations the H1N1 or H5N1 virus may mean for our community.
Experts believe a flu pandemic is likely to happen sometime in the near future. Whether it will be from a virus mutation in H5N1 (bird flu) or H1N1 (swine flu) is anyone’s guess. Either of these, or another virus, could spread rapidly since we have little natural immunity against them and frequent international travel could easily carry the virus from country to country.
In my lifetime there have been two pandemics. In 1957, 2 million people died worldwide from Asian flu, of which 70,000 were in the United States. And then approximately 34,000 U.S. residents were killed in 1968 from the Hong Kong flu, most of whom were older than 65. Compare this with the effects of seasonal flu, which leads to about 36,000 deaths in the United States each year and we’ll have a huge number of deaths from flu.
Generally, clinical symptoms of swine and bird flu are similar to seasonal influenza but they may range from an asymptomatic infection to severe pneumonia resulting in death. Since typical clinical presentation of bird or swine influenza in humans resembles seasonal influenza and other acute upper respiratory tract infections, most of the first cases were detected by chance through seasonal influenza surveillance. Avian flu has caused the death of more than half of those infected with that virus.
People usually get swine influenza from infected pigs, but human-to-human transmission may occur. Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing.
Swine flu (H1N1) has not been shown to be transmissible to people through eating properly handled and prepared pork or other products derived from pigs.
There is no current vaccine for the H5N1 avian virus but a new swine influenza vaccine has finished its trial run and will be available in a few months. It normally takes approximately five to six months for the first supplies of approved vaccine to become available once a new strain of influenza virus with pandemic potential is identified and isolated.
To protect yourself from H1N1 or a mutation of the H5N1 that may spread from person to person, practice general preventive measures for influenza:
• Avoid close contact with people who appear unwell and who have fever and cough.
• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
• Wash your hands with soap and water frequently and thoroughly. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
• Stay home from school or work if you become sick and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.
If you feel unwell, have a high fever, cough and/or sore throat:
• Stay at home and keep away from work, school or crowds as much as possible.
• Rest and take plenty of fluids.
• Cover your mouth and nose with disposable tissues when coughing and sneezing and dispose of the used tissues properly.
• Wash your hands with soap and water frequently and thoroughly, especially after coughing or sneezing.
• Inform family and friends about your illness and seek help for household chores that require contact with other people, such as shopping.
• Contact your doctor or health-care provider before traveling to see them and report your symptoms.
This information came from, and the Coastal Health Web site, gachd,org.

Ratcliffe can be reached at
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