The recent outbreak of swine flu (officially called the H1N1 flu) is causing widespread panic and concern. But, as a physician, I feel there is no need for alarm. By all indications, it is no worse than the seasonal influenza A that usually strikes every winter. I did not see many cases of influenza A or B this winter in the Emergency Room, so perhaps “flu season” was just delayed this year.

People do not normally get swine flu. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has determined that this sub-type of the disease is contagious, though, and is being spread through large airborne droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

In most people, the symptoms – fever, cough, sore throat, and runny nose – are mild. People with other chronic medical conditions and the very young and very old are at risk for complications, such as severe respiratory problems and bacterial pneumonia. However, swine flu is easily treated with anti-viral medications, including Tamiflu and Relenza.

You can prevent swine flu by minimizing your exposure. This includes avoiding travel to places where the highest numbers of cases are being reported. If you need to be around someone who has (or possibly has) swine flu, wear a surgical mask and wash your hands well after your interaction with them. If you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose and then wash your hands.

Eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and high-quality protein helps by boosting your immune system, providing the nutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that fight infection. And regular aerobic exercise increases the number of circulating white blood cells in your system, which helps stop any developing infection.

As I said, there’s no need to panic. By taking a few simple precautions, you should be fine.

[Ed. Note: Lisa Forgione, MD, is an Emergency Medicine Physician practicing in Wadesboro, North Carolina. She is a Diplomate of the American Board of Family Medicine and a member of the American Academy of Family Physicians and the North Carolina Academy of Family Physicians. Dr. Forgione participated in the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine and has received several Physicians Recognition Awards for teaching from the AMA and AAFP.]

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