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Protect Your Family from Swine Flu

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News of the swine flu outbreak has us concerned. What is it, and how can we protect our families? Pediatrician Dr. Cara Natterson tells us what moms need to know.

Members of a familiy walking along Juarez Avenue in Mexico City wear surgical masks

The entire weekend, we were glued to the news, awaiting the latest update on the swine flu. In Mexico, they are calling it an epidemic, and over 100 people have died. Cases are popping up in the States, now, too -- in New York, Kansas, California, and Texas.

How freaked out should we be about this? We asked momlogic pediatrician Dr. Cara Natterson for the real deal on swine flu.

As a mother, are you panicking over the swine flu?

I would remind everyone that 36,000 people die annually from influenza, and we don't respond to it in this way, perhaps because we're used to it. The swine flu feels scary, because it is still relatively unknown. But the risks of contracting it thus far are very small. It's not cause for complete alarm at this point -- but that could change.

Would you travel to Mexico right now, or to New York?

I wouldn't travel to Mexico City unless I absolutely had to, since it's the epicenter of this. The CDC recommends avoiding "nonessential" travel to Mexico because of swine flu. But I would certainly travel domestically right now. There's no need to wear a mask or anything on domestic flights. Just practice good hand-washing and maybe even carry on a package of baby wipes so you can wipe your hands frequently.

What are the symptoms of swine flu?

They are very similar to symptoms of influenza that is often seen in the winter months. These include:
runny nose
sore throat
nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or loss of appetite
muscle aches
lethargy/loss of energy

How can we protect our kids (and ourselves) from swine flu?

1. Hand washing, hand washing, hand washing. We put our hands in our mouths often; our kids do so even more. By washing our hands regularly -- especially before eating -- we reduce the likelihood that we will ingest the virus that causes swine flu.

2. If your child doesn't feel well, keep him home. This protects others from catching whatever your child has, and it protects your child from picking up a new infection. When we are sick and our immune system is busy fighting one infection, we may be more susceptible to another. For this reason, being out and about -- at school or work or even just running errands -- while sick is not a good idea. (However, there is no need to keep healthy kids home from school at this point in time.)

3. Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing. Teach your children to cough into their elbow (by pulling the entire arm across the face). This way, when they cough, the germs that come out aren't on their hands, ready to be smeared onto doorknobs, desks, countertops, and so on.

Will the flu shot prevent swine flu?

According to the CDC, no. The swine flu virus is very different from the human influenza virus. Therefore, the flu vaccine does not protect against H1N1 swine flu. H1 and N1 describe the main antigen types in the swine flu virus. There is a different strain of swine flu -- H3N2 -- and the flu vaccine may provide some partial protection against this one. But the swine flu strain that we are concerned about at the moment is H1N1, so the vaccine doesn't help.

How can we ease our fears?

I think the threat of swine flu is really scary right now for moms -- similar to the SARS outbreak. But my take-home message to moms is: Educating yourself about swine flu is a good thing, but freaking out and losing sleep over this is not going to help anybody.

Are you scared about swine flu -- or do you think the media is blowing the outbreak out of proportion?

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30 comments so far | Post a comment now
Pamala April 27, 2009, 1:21 PM

I was reading that in our cases no one has died and it’s been mild so I’m not worried about it happening here in the US because I think we have a great medical system that allows for these things to be taken care of in general without people dying. I feel bad for all those who have died in Mexico and I chop that up to lack of proper medical care there. I’m not worried, but I’m on the outlook.

steph April 27, 2009, 2:57 PM

I have been listening to some morning shows and the news. And i will admit that i am a bit scared. I know we have a better medical system here than Mexico but…we are not totally immune from this getting worse. I heard that the big fear is people getting the swine flu when they already have another strain of the flu..which can be very dangerous. Especially for the babies and elderly. So, i am not panicking..but surely have some fear for mainly my baby and my parents. I am just praying that this gets taken care of..and of course i will take extra precautions. Bring on the cleaning and using purell! :)

birdsfly April 27, 2009, 6:08 PM

Also in OH- my nephews’ school is closed for a week because a 9yo has it from a family trip to Mexico.

Anonymous April 27, 2009, 9:20 PM

Ive seen news stories and stuff about this and I think its scarey. What I dont understand is why theyre not just testing the general population and having the ones with it kinda like quarantined. I also wonder if anyone has ever thought about all the immigrants we have in the U.S. that go back and forth taking care of their families. This virus might be more of a threat than we realize.

Monica April 27, 2009, 10:26 PM

At first I wasn’t worried. But Its seems like the media perpetuates my fears because the more I hear about the death and the measure they are taking the more it makes me fearful. Also I live in California, 2 hours from the Mexican border. I guess it adds a little fear because of how close I am. People come and go from Mexico all the time here. But I am doing my best not to worry too much.

AM  April 28, 2009, 2:51 AM

I’m a bit worried because my hubby is currently traveling and he could wind up sitting next to someone on the plane who has it …

Swine Flu April 28, 2009, 7:02 AM

Thanks you for the post, I also say basic good hygiene helps a lot to protect against it

Amanda April 28, 2009, 8:57 AM

It is good to see the comparison with the normal flu. It reminds one that the situation is actually as bad as any flu, but not worse. Helps keeping calm.

Julie April 28, 2009, 11:59 AM

I am worried because we are supposed to be vacationing in Mazatlan Mexica in June with our whole family. We don’t want to be hasty and cancel because it is over 8 weeks and it might be ok by then. The CDC says don’t travel to Mexico now, but what about then?

Barbara Ann April 28, 2009, 6:41 PM

This should be top story, not the panic and sensationalism with which we are currently bombarded. How do we keep our families safe? Something as simple as “wash your hands” use antibacterial wipes or gels. We’re in SoCal, we encounter people going back and forth across the border to Mexico every day. If this flu is anywhere it should be here. What’s the difference between this and a “regular” flu? What makes it deadly? Were the people who died in poor health when they got it? Come on people - real facts, real info, not fear mongering

Kayla P April 28, 2009, 7:56 PM

I think that the media is causing more panic then necessary. I agree though, I’m more concerned then worried. I am just trying to stay positive and be on the look out. But I think the media is causing more fear then we need right now!

Maggie Brown April 29, 2009, 12:16 AM

As we know the swine flu can be spread person to person, it is SO important to take a proactive approach to germ prevention. There is a great program out called Germy Wormy Germ Smart Kids. It teaches children in a mom-invented, innovative and imaginative way the the above recommendations (and more) to both avoid catching AND keep from spreading germs. It is effective year-round, swine flu pandemic or not.

Anonymous April 29, 2009, 11:57 AM

I am nervous for my 10 month old son. I work with a lot of people who travel to and from NY (where over 45 cases now confirmed) and don’t want to contract it from them. But honestly, the living conditions in Mexico are atrocious, and the child that died here was a Mexican that came to the US on April 4th (almost a month ago) for treatment, so he had it for a while before he (TRAGICALLY) passed. I think thanks to our medical options and our cleaner standard of living, we may be better off than some of the less industrialized nations.

Still, I am keeping my son away from crowds as much as possible.

Anonymous April 29, 2009, 2:40 PM

If the media reported all the daily influenza cases in the U.S., including the 36,000 annual deaths, no one would even go out of their homes. If the media reported every death from auto accidents, plastered it all over the news, people would not put their children in cars. Media hype is making folks crazy!! No reports of flu in Cabo, PV, Mazatlan, Acapulco. If LA had a break out of flu with deaths (as it does), would you cancel your flight to Seattle?

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