Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Swine flu in Marin: The facts and the questions

Although the Marin County Health Department reported two swine flu cases Tuesday, there are no reports of anyone contracting swine flu in Marin. In other words, the only people who have gotten sick are people who recently traveled to Mexico. So far, of the 64 cases confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of midday Tuesday, only one -- in Kansas -- appeared to be person-to-person transmission at home.

The Marin woman, 60, and a 20-month old grandaughter, both of whom recently returned from Mexico, had confirmed cases of swine flu. The child is no longer sick, and the woman has only mild symptoms. Nobody else in the family appears to have gotten the illness, according to health authorities.

The rapid spread of the disease in Mexico, and its growing death toll, poses a number of questions for epidemiologists. So does the relative mildness of the illnesses within the United States. One possible explanation is that the swine flu virus may be losing potency as it is transmitted from one person to the next. Over the next few days and weeks, we will learn much more as physicians report more cases and their sources can be traced.

Because the virus is so easily transmitted, the CDC has recommended steps such as school closures at the first indication that a student has become infected. Keeping an infected individual away from other people is the single most important thing that can be done to reduce risk of spreading disease. Until we know how infectious the strain of swine flu in Marin actually is, people should do what ought to be done all the time: wash hands frequently, cover your mouth with a tissue when you cough, and stay home if you have any signs of illness.

Richard Besser, MD, acting director of the CDC, was quite definitive Tuesday when asked what people should do:

Hand washing. We say it every day. People will get tired of hearing it because we are always going to say that. Hand washing, use of alcohol hand gels can reduce the spread of viruses. And if people take that step, that can reduce the risk that they're going to get an infection. Covering your cough. Not with your hand, but with your arm or your shoulder. That can reduce the likelihood that you are going to transmit a virus.
My earlier post has good sources of updated information. Please email or add comments with questions that you want me to pursue. Let's all stay healthy.

No comments:

Post a Comment