Top Swine Flu Myths Debunked
Separating fact from fiction.
Posted by Moira Bugler at Health on Tuesday, April 28, 2009 10:13 AM
Swine flu coverage is everywhere—on the Web, TV, radio and even spreading like wildfire on social networks like Twitter. But across all of the media outlets, there’s potential for misinformation. And unfortunately, some of this information is causing unnecessary panic. Pediatricians’ and doctors’ offices are being overwhelmed by calls. Yankee fans in the Bronx are opting out of attending home games as a precautionary measure because of the outbreak in Queens – the largest in the United States.
Are these actions necessary or an overreaction to myths portrayed in the media? Here are some facts about swine flu to help give peace of mind and help you set a plan of action for you and your family.
Infection from the swine flu can only happen if you have direct contact with a pig.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), swine flu has in the past been spread between pigs and humans. This most likely occurs when people are in close proximity to pigs such as on farms and at fairs. However, with this outbreak, it appears human-to-human spread can also occur, because the virus can spread through liquid droplets that get airborne, such as through coughing and sneezing. Or you can contract it by touching something with the live virus on it and then touching your mouth, eyes, or nose.
If you have flu symptoms, then you have swine flu.
This is unlikely. But if you have severe flu symptoms, such as shortness of breath, you should contact your health care provider right away.
Keep in mind that right now in the U.S. those being diagnosed with swine flu are showing mild symptoms. The seasonal flu is more likely to lead to hospitalization or even death, as it kills roughly 35,000 each year, though it’s fatal more often in the very young and elderly and those who have a compromised immune system.
Eating pork products puts you at risk for swine flu infection.
Go ahead, eat your bacon. You cannot contract swine flu from eating pork. It’s safe to eat properly handled pork if it’s been cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F, which kills off most bacteria and viruses, including the virus that causes swine flu.
Your seasonal flu vaccination will protect you from this outbreak of swine flu.
According to the CDC, it may offer a small degree of protection. Note that this swine flu virus is a never-before-seen combination of swine, avian and human influenza, and therefore nobody is fully protected against it. The seasonal flu vaccine may offer some protection against the swine flu’s human virus, but it doesn’t give protection against its swine and avian components.
You should avoid public events and locations until the virus is contained.
Right now, the CDC is not recommending this. Again, the likelihood of being infected is slim. In the U.S., only 68 people are known to be infected at this time. If you are concerned about your exposure or have a weakened immune system, there is evidence that wearing a surgical mask tightly against your face offers extra protection. Although keep in mind that it’s impossible to contain this virus right now because outbreaks like this generally last for months. Frequent hand-washing is also advised.
Here’s one recommendation you should follow, however: The CDC says that the public should avoid any unnecessary travel to Mexico until further notice.
Young, healthy adults are equally at risk as children and the elderly.
It turns out that age and immune-system strength may not be a factor with this virus. That’s because, just like the SARS and avian flu outbreaks, it’s believed the problem is not so much the virus itself but how your body responds to it.
In past flu pandemics, young and healthy adults who were more likely to be affected than the very young or elderly. This is because their bodies showed an overreaction of their immune response, with respiratory-system inflammation that was ultimately deadly. A stronger immune system fighting those infections meant an overly strong response and greater odds of fatality.
But not to add to the hype, keep in mind that the cases reported so far in the United States have been mild. For those deaths in Mexico, it’s uncertain why young and healthy people are dying. One theory is the virus has already mutated into a stronger version; public health officials are investigating. It’s also important to note that antiviral medications such as Tamiflu are showing to be effective in treating this swine flu; there were no such medications in the 1918 pandemic.
This is the first outbreak of swine flu in the U.S.
This is incorrect. There have been a few incidences of swine flu outbreak in the United States over the years. In 1988, a community in Wisconsin showed multiple human infections as well as antibodies in health care workers who had close contact with the patients. There was also an outbreak of swine flu among soldiers in Fort Dix, New Jersey, in 1976. Five were infected, and one of the soldiers died. But medical experts believe there were many factors that contributed to this outbreak, including the introduction of a virus into a stressed community living in close quarters during the winter months.
And because the swine flu has similar symptoms to the common flu, it’s possible there have already been other cases that have not been tested for. As they have reported in the outbreaks of swine flu, many health care workers caring for those with swine flu often have antibodies to the virus and have experienced mild symptoms.
The swine flu outbreak is worse than the other SARS pandemic of 2000–2003.
This is not true. The SARS pandemic of 2000–2003 had 774 deaths. That’s about 10 percent of those who were infected with the virus. Most of the cases were in China, with fewer than 10 in the United States.