www.whyville.net May 3, 2009 Weekly Issue

Science Specialist

Pig Flu: A Snoutbreak

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It was just a few days ago that my co-workers were talking about taking their vacations in Mexico, now most plans have changed given the swine influenza A/H1N1 infection virus in Mexico City.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the most important thing you should do to avoid getting the swine flu (and most sicknesses for that matter) is wash your hands. Given the swine flu scare, I have been more aware of how often I wash my hands and for how long (I even sing "Happy Birthday" twice as I learned in Kindergarten during the process).

Swine flu has now been identified in the United States. According to the CDC, 7 cases have been confirmed in California, 2 in Kansas, 28 in New York City, 1 in Ohio, 2 in Texas, and yep that means none in Illinois (as of yet). So that's 40 total (twice as many as yesterday) in the United States alone as of today (This posting is from Monday, April 27th, so some of the numbers have changed). The symptoms of swine flu are like most other flus and may include: fever, cough, sore throat, muscle and joint pain, and shortness of breath.

But where did this swine flu come from? Researchers still do not know exactly where the swine flu originated, and why there was an outbreak in Mexico City. What makes it different and therefore more risky than other flus? Scientists have determined that the swine flu is a combination of genetic material from pigs, birds, and humans.

Tamiflu and Relenza are currently being used to prevent and treat the swine flu, but most infected people in the United States have recovered insofar without them. Right now, there is no vaccine for swine flu, but scientists at Baxter Healthcare and other pharmaceutical companies are starting to make one. However, the swine flu grows really slowly in the eggs that they use to make vaccines (not a good thing). Meanwhile, the World Health Organization, just raised the level of influenza pandemic from phase 3 to phase 4 today, which means that the swine flu can be passed from human to human.

In Mexico City, there was no Mass on Sunday, all schools are closed until May 6, and all I see are pictures of mask-covered faces everywhere in the city. The United States has encouraged its citizens not to travel to Mexico for nonessential purposes (so much for many spring vacations).

Amidst the swine flu scare, there is still hope (well at least according to President Obama): "If there was ever a day that reminded us of our shared stake in science and research, it is today!"


Author's Note: This was submitted to the blog by Heather, one of our corespondents.


Editor's Note: For more blogs from Dr. Rabiah, visit Science Chicago's website at: http://www.sciencechicagoblog.com


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