San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

What You Should Know About the Influenza Outbreak

The World Health Organization provided the following information about the virus suspected to have caused 92 deaths, and up to 149 by some estimates, in Mexico and infected individuals around the world, including two known cases in Costa Rica.

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. Outbreaks and sporadic human infection with swine influenza have been occasionally reported.

The best term to refer to the influenza has been a source of controversy in political circles and in newspapers. Because the virus has not been sourced in pigs, pork producers and other animal groups are asking people to use the more technical term, 2009 H1N1 flu virus, which is how the World Health Organization refers to the disease.

What are the implications for human health?

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.

Symptoms include high fever (above 100 degrees Fahrenheit and 37.8 degrees Celsius), sore throat, cough, stuffy nose, chills, headache and body aches and fatigue.


How do people become infected?

There is no risk of infection from this virus from consumption of well-cooked pork and pork products. Individuals are advised to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water on a regular basis and should seek medical attention if they develop any symptoms of the influenza-like illness.


What about the pandemic risk?

It is likely that most people, especially those who do not have regular contact with pigs, do not have immunity to swine influenza viruses.

If a swine virus establishes efficient humanto-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.


Is there a human vaccine to protect against swine influenza?

There are no vaccines that contain the current swine influenza virus causing illness in humans. It is not known whether current human seasonal influenza vaccines can provide any protection.

Influenza viruses change very quickly. It is important to develop a vaccine against the currently circulating virus strain for it to provide maximum protection to the vaccinated people. This is why WHO needs access to as many virus samples as possible in order to select the most appropriate candidate vaccine virus.


What medicines are available for treatment?

There are two classes of such medicines, 1) adamantanes (amantadine and remantadine), and 2) inhibitors of influenza neuraminidase (oseltamivir –widely marketed as TAMIFLU – 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 oftreatment.

For the ongoing outbreak of the swine influenza infection in the United States and Mexico, national and local authorities are recommending use oseltamivir or zanamivir for treatment of the disease based on the virus’s susceptibility profile.


How can I protect myself from getting swine influenza from infected people?

In the past, human infection with swine influenza was generally mild, but is known to have caused severe illness such as pneumonia. For the current outbreaks in the United States and Mexico, however, the clinical pictures have been different. Only one of the confirmed cases in the United States has had the severe form of the disease.

To protect yourself, practice general preventive measures for influenza:

? Avoid close contact with people who appear unwell and who have a fever or cough.

? Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water.

? Practice good health habits including adequate sleep, eating nutritious food and keeping physically active.


If there is an ill person at home:

? Try to provide the ill person a separate section in the house. If this is not possible, keep the patient at least one meter in distance from others.

? Cover mouth and nose when caring for the illperson. Masks can be bought commercially or made using the readily available materials as long as they are disposed of or cleaned properly.

? Wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly after each contact with the ill person.

? Try to improve the airflow in the area where the ill person stays. Use doors and windows to take advantage of breezes.

? Keep the environment clean with readily available household cleaning agents.


What should I do if I think I have swine influenza?

The Costa Rica Health Ministry is advising residents who have symptoms of the flu to stay away from public areas, communicate via telephone or the Internet, consume plenty of fluids and avoid taking Aspirin. If symptoms become serious, individuals are advised to seek medical attention.

For tourists or temporary residents unfamiliar with Costa Rica’s medical system, contact your embassy.

–World Health Organization

and The Tico Times


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