Okay, Pinkies, this may seem like a bit of a digression, but since everyone’s talking about Swine Flu and I’m a doctor, I feel like I’ve got to weigh in on this one. After all, part of Owning Pink is Owning Your Health, so let’s chat. First off, DON’T PANIC. And don't contribute to the mass hysteria being tweeted on Twitter and babbled on Facebook. PLEASE. Educate yourself and others, but get your information correct and quote reputable sources. Don't forget that swine flu is an influenza virus, not ebola. You’re not going to start hemorrhaging out of your eyeballs and keel over after someone sneezes on you. Remember that most people don’t die from the flu. They get a fever, some body aches, a cough, a bit of vomiting and diarrhea sometimes, and they’re stuck in bed feeling like crap. Sometimes they need IV fluids and some anti-viral medications. But it’s the flu. Let's keep a little perspective, Pinkies!
I know, I know. This flu virus is different. It’s carried by piggies, and because of that, we don’t have natural immunity to it, which makes us vulnerable. But even if you get it (fingers crossed for you and me both), chances are that you’ll recover just fine. The problem is that it appears to be highly infectious. Unlike HIV, which is transmitted primarily by blood and sexual body fluids, swine flu is spread via the respiratory system, meaning that the virus particles fly through the air from coughing, sneezing, licking, even breathing. But it’s still just the flu. Don’t worry. Take precautions, but don’t freak. Okay? There's a rumor out there that antiviral drugs don't work for this strain of influenza, but according to the CDC, laboratory tests prove that this is not true. Although this strain of swine flu is resistant to amantadine and rimantidine, 2 other antiviral drugs oseltimavir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) are effective. There's also a rumor that you can get swine flu from eating pork. NOT! So don't listen to all the hype. Stick to what the CDC tells you.
So what’s a girl to do to Own Pink and make sure she's prepared in case swine flu shows up in her 'hood? Here are some tips:
1. Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands. (Say it three times over. This is your new Pink mantra, and it’s the number one way to avoid getting swine flu). Also, avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, which can introduce the virus into your receptive passageways. If you cough or sneeze, use a tissue and throw the tissue away afterwards. This will help protect you and everyone else out there who is trying to avoid swine flu.
2. Give your immune system a boost by taking Echinacea. My favorite is Esberitox from Integrative Therapeutics.
3. Eat immune boosting foods, and steer clear of sugar. Here are five that can help you.
Loaded with Vitamin C, citrus fruits are a yummy, easy way to support your immune system. Grab a glass of OJ, or make some lemonade. Even better, mix lots of lemons into clean water with stevia (a natural sweetener) and cayenne pepper. Not only is it a zingy tasty treat filled with Vitamin C, it also alkalinizes your body, which helps it fight infection.
Red chili peppers (cayenne)
Cayenne pepper has long been appreciated for its medicinal properties and can help your body during states of emergency. So chili it up for good health!
Filled with immune-boosting mojo, garlic has been used to treat everything from the common cold to the Plague. So load up on garlic and give your body a fighting chance.
Bursting with beta-carotene, carrots give your body a leg up when you’re fighting infection. Drink a few carrot juices to get enough in your body. Sweet potatoes and spinach also contain lots of beta carotene, so eat up.
Fish like salmon, mackeral, and tuna are filled with omega-3 fats, which support white blood cells in fighting infection. Sushi anyone?
4. Snooze, baby, snooze! Sleep is underrated. When you’re well rested, your body fights infection more effectively. Check out these tips for naturopath Dr. Nicole Sundene.
5. Give up alcohol and caffeine for a while. Staying sober and decaffeinated helps your body mount immune responses.
6. Guzzle green juice instead. If you have a juicer stashed under your counter, now is the time to pull it out and load it with kale, celery, cucumber, swiss chard, lemon, spinach, ginger, garlic- whatever you’ve got around that can support your good health. Also, avoid processed foods and eat a whole foods diet.
7. Try not to drink after others, especially those who have recently traveled to Mexico. And avoid sick people, if you can.
8. Hydrate. Drink, drink, drink pure clean water. It keeps your mucous thin and helps you mucous membranes resist infection.
9. Try not to touch your nose, eyes, and mouth.
10. Take Vitamin C supplements. If you take extra, it gets excreted in your urine, so it won't hurt you to load up.
11. Supplement with probiotic bacteria, which alters the intestinal flora and helps your body resist infection.
12. Take Elderberry syrup: 1 tsp 3 times daily. It's a natural anti-viral and can be particularly useful if your community runs out of Tamiflu and Relenza, as is likely to happen.
13. Get your exercise. While this may not be the best time to go to a crowded gym, a long hike in nature can do wonders for your immune system, your general health, and your psyche.
14. Rethink your Mexico trip. The CDC recommends avoiding all non-essential travel to Mexico in order to protect Americans and help contain the virus.
15. If you have access to an integrative medicine practitioner, this is a good time to make an appointment. Integrative medicine practitioners like me have many tips up their sleeves that can help you boost your immune system and fight infection. If you live in the Bay area and would like to make an appointment to learn more about how to fight swine flu, call Clear Center of Health in Mill Valley.
16. Don't panic about swine flu. Stress weakens your immune system and makes you less capable of mounting an immune response. Pandemics are understandably stressful. Manage your stress in healthy ways, by meditating, listening to guided imagery CD's, walking, deep breathing, yoga, and other healthy stress-relieving activities. You might even tap into the Zen of Swine Flu.
17. DON'T DO THIS!
Okay, just kidding. Not to make light of it, but I couldn't resist! (tee hee)
So what should you do if you get sick? If you have fever, body aches, cough, headache, vomiting and/or diarrhea, contact your physician. To know whether your area is at risk, click here for a map of reported swine flu cases. Hope that helps, Pinkies! Since swine flu has been all the buzz in the past few days, I just wanted to put on my doctor hat and offer some helpful suggestions to help you all stay healthy and Pink.
10/1/09 Update: A New Post: My Thoughts About the Swine Flu Vaccine
For more accurate info about swine flu, read on. Here are the World Health Organization's answers to your questions, posted April 25, 2009:
What is swine influenza?
Swine influenza, or “swine flu”, is a highly contagious acute respiratory disease of pigs, caused by one of several swine influenza A viruses. Morbidity tends to be high and mortality low (1-4%). The virus is spread among pigs by aerosols and direct and indirect contact, and asymptomatic carrier pigs exist. Outbreaks in pigs occur year round, with an increased incidence in the fall and winter in temperate zones. Many countries routinely vaccinate swine populations against swine influenza. Swine influenza viruses are most commonly of the H1N1 subtype, but other subtypes are also circulating in pigs (e.g., H1N2, H3N1, H3N2). Pigs can also be infected with avian influenza viruses and human seasonal influenza viruses as well as swine influenza viruses. The H3N2 swine virus was thought to have been originally introduced into pigs by humans. Sometimes pigs can be infected with more than one virus type at a time, which can allow the genes from these viruses to mix. This can result in an influenza virus containing genes from a number of sources, called a "reassortant" virus. Although swine influenza viruses are normally species specific and only infect pigs, they do sometimes cross the species barrier to cause disease in humans.
What are the implications for human health?
Outbreaks and sporadic human infection with swine influenza have been occasionally reported. Generally clinical symptoms are similar to seasonal influenza but reported clinical presentation ranges broadly from asymptomatic infection to severe pneumonia resulting in death. Since typical clinical presentation of swine influenza infection in humans resembles seasonal influenza and other acute upper respiratory tract infections, most of the cases have been detected by chance through seasonal influenza surveillance. Mild or asymptomatic cases may have escaped from recognition, therefore the true extent of this disease among humans is unknown.
How do people become infected?
People usually get swine influenza from infected pigs, however, some human cases lack contact history with pigs or environments where pigs have been located. Human-to-human transmission hasoccurred in some instances but was limited to close contacts and closed groups of people.
Is it safe to eat pork and pork products?
Yes. Swine influenza has not been shown to be transmissible to people through eating properly handled and prepared pork (pig meat) or other products derived from pigs. The swine influenza virus is killed by cooking temperatures of 160¡F/70¡C, corresponding to the general guidance for the preparation of pork and other meat.
Which countries have been affected by outbreaks in pigs?
Swine influenza is not notifiable to international animal health authorities (OIE, www.oie.int),therefore its international distribution in animals is not well known. The disease is considered endemic in the United States. Outbreaks in pigs are also known to have occurred in North and South America, Europe (including the UK, Sweden, and Italy), Africa (Kenya), and in parts of eastern Asia including China and Japan.
What about the pandemic risk?
It is likely that most of people, especially those who do not have regular contact with pigs, do not have immunity to swine influenza viruses that can prevent the virus infection. If a swine virus established efficient human-to human transmission, it can cause an influenza pandemic. The impact of a pandemic caused by such a virus is difficult to predict: it depends on virulence of the virus, existing immunity among people, cross protection by antibodies acquired from seasonal influenza infection and host factors. Swine influenza viruses can give a rise to a hybrid virus by mixing with a human influenza virus and can cause pandemic.
Is there a human vaccine to protect from swine influenza?
No. Influenza viruses change very quickly and the match between the vaccine and the circulating virus is very important to give adequate protective immunity to vaccinated people. This is why WHO needs to select vaccine viruses twice a year for seasonal influenza protection, once for the northern hemisphere winter and another for the southern hemisphere. Current seasonal influenza vaccine produced based on WHO recommendation does not contain swine influenza virus. It is unknown whether the seasonal vaccines can provide any cross protection to ongoing swine influenza virus infection in the United States and Mexico. WHO is working closely with its partner institutions for further advise on the use of seasonal influenza vaccine in preventing the swine influenza infection.
What drugs are available for treatment?
Antiviral drugs for seasonal influenza are available in some countries and effectively prevent and treat the illness. There are two classes of such medicines, 1) adamantanes (amantadine and remantadine),and 2) inhibitors of influenza neuraminidase (oseltamivir and zanamivir).Most of the previously reported swine influenza cases recovered fully from the disease without requiring medical attention and without antiviral medicines. Some influenza viruses develop resistance to the antiviral medicines, limiting the effectiveness of chemoprophylaxis and treatment. The viruses obtained from the recent human cases with swine influenza in the United States were sensitive to oselatmivir and zanamivir but resistant to amantadine and remantadine. Information is insufficient to make recommendation on the use of the antivirals in prevention and treatment of swine influenza virus infection. Clinicians have to make decisions based on the clinical and epidemiological assessment and harms and benefit of the prophylaxis/treatment of the patient2.For the ongoing outbreak of the swine influenza infection in the United States and Mexico, the national and the local authorities are recommending to use oseltamivir or zanamivir for treatment and prevention of the disease based on the virus’s susceptibility profile.
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