The true risk of contracting swine flu

This post was written by R. Scott Stienecker, MD, FACP, FSHEA, FIDSA, CIC, medical director, Epidemiology and Infection Prevention.                 

Every year, all year long, we have about 6-8 different strains of flu circulate around the world. Because some of these strains have a host of variants that are less transmissible, we only see a few cases before that variant burns out. 

The flu vaccine only covers four of the most common flu strains.  The other strains circulate at low levels or, as is the case with the swine flu, within specific groups. So pigs, and those who work with pigs, are much more likely to encounter swine flu than the general population. 

The number of flu cases Parkview sees typically peaks in January or February. Sometimes a little earlier, and sometimes a little later. During the summer, fairs create a unique environment in which people who don’t normally breathe “pig air” or touch pigs have the opportunity to do so.  It’s fun! But it also creates the environment where a number of pigs are close together, and previously unexposed people are now being exposed. This elevates the risk of contracting swine flu. 

Should you leave out a trip to the pig barn? The answer is yes, if your immune system is poor. This is often the case for those receiving chemotherapy or on a high dose of steroids. But for the vast majority of us, we simply need to avoid touching our face while we are around the animals, and use hand sanitizer or thoroughly wash our hands when we leave the barn. Enjoy the fair! Go visit a farm! I know that’s what I will do.

 

 

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