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Published April 30, 2009, 12:44 AM

Letter: Don’t panic over swine influenza

I write because news of the spreading “swine influenza” may be causing some irrational responses by an anxious public.

By: David Harris, Red Wing, The Republican Eagle

To the Editor:

I write because news of the spreading “swine influenza” may be causing some irrational responses by an anxious public.

As demand for immediate anti-viral treatment for any acute illness is likely to grow, so demand for pork products in the stores is likely to decline.

Influenza can mimic the symptoms of a severe cold or stomach upset.

If you think you may have influenza, and not a mere “cold” see a doctor, nurse, or public health official right away.

The best way to avoid spreading it is to stay away from crowds, from school, church, public meetings, etc.

Unless specific diagnostic tests are available, there is little point in taking antiviral medicines for mild symptoms, and, actually, little evidence for life-saving benefit in more severe cases.

Furthermore, if anti-viral medicines are used, they are reported to be ineffective unless started within the first 24 hours of the onset of symptoms. The influenza virus mutates with each pandemic, so a vaccine for a previous outbreak is less likely to be effective for a new strain.

Influenza spreads principally via hand-to-mouth contact and aerosolized droplets.

Therefore, the most important things anyone can do to avoid spreading or contracting the flu are quite simple:

(1) wash hands with soap and water before eating or touching your face and after contacting public objects (door knobs, flushing toilets, etc., and

(2) avoid coughing or sneezing without covering the mouth and nose with a handkerchief and stay away from others who are coughing or sneezing.

The disease cannot be spread by eating cooked meat from infected pigs. Therefore, there is no risk in buying pork products and no reason to penalize the grocers and butchers by avoiding purchases of pork or ham out of fear of catching the flu.

Dr. David Harris

Red Wing

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