Mexico is contending with an outbreak of swine flu, suspected in the deaths of dozens of people and sickening perhaps 1,000. In the United States, at least eight cases have been confirmed with the infection, all of them in California and Texas; only one person was hospitalized. Here are some questions and answers about the illness:
Q. What is swine flu?
A. Swine flu is a respiratory illness in pigs caused by a virus. The swine flu virus routinely causes outbreaks in pigs but doesn't usually kill many of them.
Q. Can people get swine flu?
A. Swine flu viruses don't usually infect humans. There have been occasional cases, usually among people who've had direct contact with infected pigs, such as farm workers. "We've seen swine influenza in humans over the past several years, and in most cases, it's come from direct pig contact. This seems to be different," said Dr. Arnold Monto, a flu expert with the University of Michigan.
Q. Can it spread among humans?
A. There have been cases of the virus spreading from human to human, probably in the same way as seasonal flu, through coughing and sneezing by infected people.
Q. What are the symptoms of swine flu?
A. The symptoms are similar to those of regular flu — fever, cough, fatigue, lack of appetite.
Q. Is the same swine flu virus making people sick in Mexico and the U.S.?
A. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the Mexican virus samples match the U.S. virus. The virus is a mix of human virus, bird virus from North America and pig viruses from North America, Europe and Asia.
Q. Are there drugs to treat swine flu in humans?
A. There are four different drugs approved in the U.S. to treat the flu, but the new virus has shown resistance to the two oldest. The CDC recommends the use of the flu drugs Tamiflu and Relenza.
Q. Does a regular flu shot protect against swine flu?
A. The seasonal flu vaccine used in the U.S. this year won't likely provide protection against the latest swine flu virus. There is a swine flu vaccine for pigs but not for humans.
Q. Should residents of California or Texas do anything special?
A. The CDC recommends routine precautions to prevent the spread of infectious diseases: wash your hands often, cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, avoid close contact with sick people. If you are sick, stay at home and limit contact with others.
Q. What about traveling to Mexico?
A. The CDC has not warned Americans against traveling to Mexico but advises that they be aware of the illnesses there and take precautions to protect against infections, like washing their hands.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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