by Melissa Pileiro
It seems hard to believe that just ten days ago Americans were completely unaware of the swine flu. Now, it seems to be the new buzzword, popping up online, on TV, and in print. Of course, most worrisome of all is that the virus is new, uncontained, and spreading.
The H1N1 virus, commonly known as the swine flu, first made national headlines two weeks ago. The virus is typically restricted to pigs, but what is causing concern is that recently, the virus has mutated and is able to be transmitted to humans. Since swine flu is typically an animal strain, it can’t be prevented just by going to the doctor for a vaccine like the “regular” human influenza. With the mutation being so recent and no vaccine to help prevent it, humans have no immunity to the swine flu. This means that each and every one of us is at risk for contracting and spreading the virus to others.
Before panicking, however, it’s important to be aware of what the virus is, how it’s spread, and how to keep yourself safe during this time of uncertainty.
The H1N1 virus was first spotted in Mexico back in March, where it began to spread quickly. Several deaths were reported in the weeks immediately following the outbreak and steps were taken to contain it, but not before travelers and tourists crossed the border to enter the United States. Those in close contact with infected individuals also began to show signs of the swine flu, and it has since then been diagnosed all over the United States. At present it seems to be spreading in localized clusters, but no one is certain how long this will last.
The worries of the American people are only being heightened by the almost constant media coverage that began shortly after the first signs of human-to-human transmission. The internet is a particular hotspot for swine flu information, but not all of it is accurate. Rumors have been spread via Facebook, Twitter, and other social websites that swine flu is spread through consuming pork, which is not true; you can only catch this strain of the virus from other humans. The Internet has also helped to stretch out of proportion the number of people who have confirmed cases in the United States—226 as of May 4, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC)—and the severity of the disease in general.
Make no mistake, swine flu is certainly a concern, and Americans should be doing everything in their power to stay informed and inform others while protecting themselves. However, hysteria and spreading of misinformation will do more harm than good. When looking for information online, be careful when choosing which websites to view; in the days immediately following the outbreak, hackers and scammers bought new websites that spread both lies and computer viruses.
Generally, the best strategy is to stay away from others when you aren’t feeling well, and to always cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer often, and stay updated on the latest medical recommendations. If you start to feel feverish, have a headache, upper respiratory tract symptoms (cough, sore throat, etc.), vomiting, or diarrhea, see a doctor as soon as possible.