Courtlynn Powell: Swine flu’s making me nervous

Daughter and would-be blogger Courtlynn (below right, exactly as shown) writes that,

“Coming home from school this afternoon, a rush of fear and anxiety seemed to linger. 20 people died in Mexico. 500 nurses in Mexico have this, as well as people returning from Canada, in the past week. It’s spread from California to Texas.”

The N.Y. Times reports this morning that Mexican officials, scrambling to control a swine flu outbreak that has killed as many as 61 people and infected possibly hundreds more in recent weeks, closed museums and shuttered schools for millions of students in and around the capital on Friday, and urged people with flu symptoms to stay home from work. …

The new strain contains gene sequences from North American and Eurasian swine flus, North American bird flu and North American human flu, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A similar virus has been found in the American Southwest, where officials have reported eight nonfatal cases. …

Mexico’s flu season is usually over by now, but health officials have noticed a significant spike in flu cases since mid-March. The W.H.O. said there had been 800 cases in Mexico in recent weeks, 60 of them fatal, of a flulike illness that appeared to be more serious than the regular seasonal flu. Mexican officials said there were 943 possible cases.

Still, only a small number have been confirmed as cases of the new H1N1 swine flu.

Avoid sickness this flu season, get a flu shot and wash your hands

Seasonal influenza will probably be on the rise again.  The flu season lasts from approximately October through March, with peak months being January and February.  In all likelihood I’ll probably come down with the flu this season, from a combination of stress and little sleep (part of my life as a veterinary student).  But I’ve increased my chances for a flu-less flu season by getting a flu shot.  The flu shot, in combination with precautions such as washing your hands frequently, covering your cough and sneeze and staying home when sick are good ways for people to protect themselves and their families from infection.

Anyone, including healthy people, can get the flu.  The FDA has approved four antiviral drugs to fight influenza A, but they don’t always work because flu virus strains can become resistant to one or more of these medicines. They also aren’t a cure-all for the flu.  It’s best to avoid getting the flu rather than treating it as quickly as you can once you’ve got it.

Unfortunately the flu is very contagious. It can be caught from breathing in droplets in the air from someone sneezing, coughing or talking. The flu also is spread when people touch something with the flu viruses on it such as a doorknob or handrail, and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth. People can spread flu from one day before symptoms appear to seven days after symptoms go away.

Since handwashing is a great practice to help prevent the flu (along with preventing foodborne illnesses), I’ve been washing mine like crazy.  But I’m also glad to hear about other practices put in place to reduce flu exposure.  The priest at my church has instructed parishioners to give a verbal sign of peace during mass, rather than a handshake.  I couldn’t be happier about it.  I can remember many times that I’ve been standing next to a person in mass, and after watching them cough into their hands for most of the service, the last thing I want to do is shake their germy hands.  

When I visited Japan this past summer, I noticed that it was common custom for a person to wear a facemask in public if they were suffering from the flu.  The Japanese were so polite during my visit, and I think it’s fitting that they were considerate enough to protect those around them from their germs.  Of course facemasks are also worn in many other countries for health reasons, though I haven’t seen anyone using one here in Kansas.  If the trend could catch on I would be gung-ho for wearing a facemask.  Then again I’m a bit of a germaphobe.

They are many (debatable) remedies you can buy to boost your immune system.  But the best flu prevention still remains the flu shot.  Go out and get yours today, and keep washing those hands.  Have a healthy flu season.

Google Flu Trends – early warning system for foodborne illness outbreaks?

Google Flu Trends is a new Web tool that, the company’s philanthropic unit, unveiled on Tuesday, just as flu season was getting under way in the United States.

The N.Y. Times reports that Google Flu Trends is based on the simple idea that people who are feeling sick will probably turn to the Web for information, typing things like “flu symptoms” or “muscle aches” into Google. The service tracks such queries and charts their ebb and flow, broken down by regions and states.

Early tests suggest that the service may be able to detect regional outbreaks of the flu a week to 10 days before they are reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

We’ve thought of doing something like this with surveillance of foodborne illnesss, or even restaurant inspection and complaints. But we don’t have the resources of Google.

Google Flu Trends ( is the latest indication that the words typed into search engines like Google can be used to track the collective interests and concerns of millions of people, and even to forecast the future.

Flat pop does not help sick kids: study

As I wrote in Nov. 2005, I’m convinced my mother tried to kill me through foodborne illness.

Not intentionally, of course. But twice a year, on average while growing up, I’d spend a couple of days on the couch, passing liquid out of both ends, while mom comforted me with flat ginger ale, crushed ice (we even had one of those kitchen necessities — an ice crusher, in groovy pink, suitable for early 1970s suburbia) and soothing words like, "It’s just the flu honey, you’ll feel better soon."

Now, British researchers who searched the scientific data for evidence that flat soda pop — a home remedy for diarrhea and vomiting passed down from generation to generation — prevents dehydration in children with gastroenteritis have reached a conclusion: No.

According to their report in this month’s issue of Archives of Disease in Childhood, biochemical analyses "clearly show" various carbonated drinks contain low levels of sodium and potassium, and far more sugar than oral rehydration solutions. Cola contained up to seven times the amount of glucose the World Health Organization recommends for oral rehydration.

"Carbonated drinks, flat or otherwise, including cola, provide inadequate fluid and electrolyte replacement and cannot be recommended."

Bird flu may kill badminton grand prix

The Times of India reports today that avian influenza may cost India its first grand prix badminton tournament.  The story says:

Bird flu outbreaks in China had made India ban import of all premium goose feathers of Chinese origin to manufacture shuttlecocks.
In a last-minute bid to save India the blushes, BAI president V K Verma has shot off letters to secretaries in the animal husbandry department and the ministries of health and agriculture, as well as to the Sports Authority of India, urging them to review the ban.

Interesting fallout from the animal disease outbreak.

Puking Myths: How to tell the difference between foodborne illness and the flu

During the holidays I heard a couple of barf stories that were attributed to uncertain causes. At the same time, Doug and I were laid up with the flu for about two weeks, neither of us really puking but feeling exhausted, nauseated with chills and muscle aches. One woman said she had the flu, too … that it came on really fast, was coming out both ends, and then she felt better the next day. I asked her, “Are you sure it wasn’t foodborne illness?” “Might’ve been…” she replied thoughtfully, probably going over the list of things she had eaten. Another friend just got back from Chicago – a trip that she said was ruined by her husband puking his guts out. They thought it was the Polish buffet because while he chose some foods, she had others, and she assumed something he ate was off. Might’ve been. But how do you know when it’s food poisoning and when it’s the flu?

The following list of flu symptoms, which I looked up while I was laid up on the couch over break, comes from the CDC :

Influenza usually starts suddenly and may include the following symptoms:

    * Fever (usually high)
    * Headache
    * Tiredness (can be extreme)
    * Cough
    * Sore throat
    * Runny or stuffy nose
    * Body aches
    * Diarrhea and vomiting (more common among children than adults) suggests you know the FACTS (Fever, Aches, Chills, Tiredness,
Sudden symptoms)

If you have foodborne illness, the FDA’s Bad Bug Book gives a comprehensive list of suspects by symptom and time of onset. It can be a little more complicated to diagnose as some toxins, such as shellfish toxin, can have an onset of diarrhea and vomiting in under an hour whereas salmonella takes on average 2-4 days to produce possible symptoms of abdominal cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, fever, chills, malaise, nausea, and/or headache.

Foodborne illness is not usually (although sometimes can be) caused by the last thing you ate, and the flu does not usually (but sometimes can) produce vomiting and diarrhea in adults. Next time you’re puking your guts out, if you can manage to concentrate, you might have to make a longer grocery list of items in your diet. Was it what you had three days ago? Might’ve been.