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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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