SWINE flu deaths in Mexico are
rising daily and cases have been reported across the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia. Though the outbreak is a concern for the World Health Organization, common-sense precautions could help stem a global pandemic.
About 70 cases have been confirmed in the United States, including a 9-year-old Ohio boy who recently visited Mexico with family. His elementary school in Elyria has been closed temporarily as a precaution. Most of the U.S. victims are in New York, although there are cases reported in Texas, Kansas, and California and suspected cases in Michigan, South Carolina, and, closest to home, Wood County. Many seem to be associated with spring break trips to Mexico.
In Mexico, more than 150 people have died, at least 20 from swine flu, and nearly 2,000 hospitalized with severe pneumonia since the outbreak began in mid-April. How many cases are swine flu is not known.
European Union officials urged that people not travel to affected areas in the United States or Mexico. Many countries, especially in Asia where memories of SARS and avian flu outbreaks remain fresh, are scrutinizing airline travelers from North America.
Certainly, air travel gives any communicable disease the potential to spread rapidly, but a more balanced response is necessary. In 1976, a similar outbreak of a different strain of swine flu alarmed the public and health officials, resulting in 40 million Americans being vaccinated for a pandemic that never occurred. Remember, despite Mexico's high death toll, swine flu is not the Black Death. As President Obama said, the outbreak is a cause for concern, "not a cause for alarm."
Reasonable precautions include washing hands frequently and avoiding contact with people who display flu-like symptoms, and covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Masks are recommended only for health-care providers and others who come in close contact with flu victims.
If you have severe flu symptoms, go to the hospital. Hospitalized or not, stay home until you've been symptom-free for two days. That's a prescription everyone can live with.