Nearing Global Pandemic: What You Need to Know About Swine Flu and Children


What do you do when you hear “global pandemic?”  Is it time to build a bunker?  Should you and your family lock yourself in with enough PB&J for weeks of sustenance? With swine flu creeping towards meeting the definition of global pandemic, everyone is in a flutter.  Parents especially are wondering how to protect their families from this illness.


Today it was announced that there is at least one case of swine flu in my home, San Francisco.  Being on the front line of a potential pandemic is quite an experience, and at times I am tempted to feel a little nervous myself.   At the moment, however, the best thing that all of us can do is use common sense, stay informed, and, as usual:  don’t panic.


What do we know about the swine flu?  A strain of flu that infects pigs has mutated so that it can infect humans, and also be transmitted between humans. It has spread across borders and has caused human-to-human transmission in at least two countries.  To be officially elevated to the level of a “global pandemic,” the World Health Organization now needs to be convinced that it has caused a community outbreak in one other country in a different WHO region, which is likely to happen soon.    


What don’t we know about this swine flu?  It is unclear whether this strain of flu will cause illness in hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands of people, or how severe it will be.  Even though it will likely reach the state of global pandemic, this virus may blow over without causing much illness.  Or it may cause many people to become sick and displaced from school and work, and it may cause more deaths.  Only time will tell the extent of this outbreak.  


Here are some basic facts about this flu virus so far.  Things are changing quickly:  please visit a reliable source like the CDC’s website for up-to-date information.

  • The symptoms of this swine flu are the same as the regular flu:  fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat, and body aches.  Some people have vomiting or diarrhea along with these symptoms. 
  • So far the cases in the US have been mild.  It is unclear why the outbreak in Mexico has had more fatalities.  We hope that will not be the case in other countries, but things are still evolving.
    • Many people do not know that seasonal influenza causes an average of 35,000 deaths yearly.  These deaths are mostly in the elderly.  
  • The virus spreads in the same way that seasonal flu spreads:  mainly from person to person through coughing and sneezing. 
  • The swine flu germ can also be spread by touching an object or surface contaminated by the virus.  Some germs can live on surfaces for up to 2 hours.
  • The swine flu virus cannot be transmitted by eating pork products.
  • People with the swine flu may be contagious one day before getting symptoms and up to 7 or more days after they become ill.  
  • If you are exposed to swine flu you may become ill 1 to 7 days after exposure. 
  • The current flu shot does not protect against this strain of flu virus.  A swine flu vaccine is being manufactured, but will not be ready for several months.
  • There are medications to treat swine flu.  The virus is susceptible to the antiviral medications used for seasonal influenza.   The CDC is currently recommending the selective treatment of people who are very ill or who have chronic illnesses.  These recommendations are also changing: you may read the details on the CDC website or contact your health care provider.


Tips for parents:

  • As always, try to prevent your child (and you!) from getting sick.
    • Wash hands frequently with soap and water or use hand-sanitizing cleaners.
      • Having your child sing the ABC song during the hand washing may get them close to the recommended 15-20 seconds.
    • Cover little mouths and noses when sneezing or coughing.
    • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
    • If you are sick, try to limit your contact with others as much as possible. (I know, this is all *much* easier said than done).  
  • If your child has a mild illness, it may be best to stay home, give them your usual excellent care, and closely observe them for signs of serious illness.  
  • If your child is moderately ill, please contact your health care provider.  
  • If your child is extremely ill, please go to the local emergency department.
  • There is gobs of good and bad information about the swine flu available on TV, the radio and on the internet.  Try to get your information from a trusted source.


Bottom Line:  It’s not time to build a bunker.  I’m not yet impressed with the severity of this new flu virus, and hope that it will pass without creating too much (more) havoc.  But it will be a test of local and national responses to large disease outbreaks, and I hope that we all perform well under the circumstances.

Because we have to find humor to ease our stress in times of crisis, stay tuned for a later post about some of the amusing moments that come out of this epidemic.  


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Filed under Common Illnesses, In The News

3 responses to “Nearing Global Pandemic: What You Need to Know About Swine Flu and Children

  1. Joshua Garber

    Dr. Kim!

    Thanks so much for your post. You have come such a long way from Tuscola High… Really proud of you girl! Anyhow, I have been living in Cancun, Mexico for over 5 yrs now and they are going crazy here. And the media in both the US and Mexico are not helping at all, they are making it worse. It’s killing the tourism here… We are already a ghost town in the middle of busy season and we have NO reported cases here of the H1N1 strain… Thank you for giving the education to people who might not know what’s going on… It’s the main thing I have been stressing to the tourists who are afraid or want to come down… To educate themselves before they make a decision…

    thanks so much and you take care! Joshua in Cancun, MX.

  2. Jane

    Thank you for posting this! People seem to be panicking, so it’s reassuring to hear what an appropriate response for a parent should be.

  3. Pingback: Humor in Chaos: Watching The Swine Flu Epidemic Evolve « Dr. Kim, MD

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