Note: This report was updated on November 1, 2009.
A pandemic flu is sweeping the globe, raising concerns that this outbreak will affect the health of many millions of people. This strain of flu, known as H1N1, is an influenza Type A, the same type that caused past pandemics in 1918, 1957, and 1968. As developments continue to emerge, it is important to understand what swine flu is, the magnitude of the situation, and how to protect yourself and your family.
In this Special Health Report, updated on November 1, 2009, the experts at Harvard Medical School provide the critical information you need to know. You’ll understand how swine flu is diagnosed, what vaccines and treatments are available, what precautions you must take now to prevent infection, and how to prepare in case the global pandemic becomes so severe that community is affected. This report will answer such questions as:
- What is swine flu and what is a pandemic?
- How serious and contagious will the swine flu pandemic be?
- How do symptoms of swine flu differ from an ordinary flu?
- What should you do if you develop flu symptoms?
- What vaccines and antiviral treatments are available, and what are their benefits and risks?
- If the risk of swine flu subsides, could it return at a later time?
- How can I protect myself and my family from getting swine flu?
- How can I protect others from me if I get swine flu?
- How do I prepare for the possibility that, for a period of time, schools will close, public meetings will be banned, or work-from-home programs will be implemented.
- How can businesses prepare for a pandemic?
As an added resource to Swine Flu: How to understand your risk and protect your health, you will also have access to the Flu Resource Center on the Harvard Health Publications web site. There you will find the latest updates on numbers of reported cases, the states and countries where new cases are reported, travel restrictions, and other frequently changing information. When major new developments occur in this dynamic new epidemic, Harvard Health Publications will update the report. You will be sent an email notifying you that the updated report is available to you — at no additional charge.
Swine Flu: How to understand your risk and protect your health was prepared by the editors of the Harvard Health Publications in consultation with Raphael Dolin, M.D., Maxwell Finland Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School. 43 pages. (Updated November 1, 2009)
What can I do to protect myself and my family before there is a known swine flu pandemic?
Begin by learning good hygiene techniques and teaching them to your family and friends. Wash hands frequently. Cover your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing and avoid close contact with someone who has flu symptoms.
Contact local health officials. Before a pandemic starts, check with your local health department to find out what plans are being made to handle a swine flu outbreak in your town. Find out what facilities will be expected to remain open in case of a pandemic. Also determine what schools will do and how local health officials will find out about and report local cases of swine flu if they occur.
Plan for a pandemic with the U.S. government checklist. You can prepare for an influenza pandemic now. You should know both the magnitude of what can happen during a pandemic and what actions you can take to help lessen the impact of an influenza pandemic on you and your family.
What should I do if swine flu is confirmed in my community?
If swine flu arrives in your community, you and your family should avoid large social gatherings, particularly any associated with a school, hospital or other institution where flu cases have been confirmed.
Stay home if possible. If you can reasonably stay home from work or avoid traveling on public transportation, consider doing so. Schools, child care facilities, or other local institutions should strongly consider closing if a case of swine flu is suspected or confirmed.
If you are ill. If you or a family member develop flu-like symptoms (fever with either a cough or sore throat) the person should isolate themselves at home for 7 days after the onset of illness or at least 24 hours after symptoms have resolved. Contact your health care provider by phone before seeking care at a clinic or doctor’s office. If you experience difficulty breathing or shortness of breath or feel severely ill, seek medical treatment immediately. If you have flu symptoms and must go into the community, wear a mask to help protect others. Use a handkerchief if you do not have a mask.