Monday, May 4, 2009

Healthy Education - 5-6-09 Editor's Column

I would feel left out of the loop if I didn’t write something - anything – about the swine flu pandemic that has people everywhere concerned for their health and safety.

However, I feel that the best way of approaching this issue as it currently stands is to tell you something that most news outlets haven’t yet: Take a deep breathe and calm down.

I think it’s far too easy to get caught up in the panic of something like swine flu, or H1N1 - an influenza type A subtype, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - as it is now known.

This is true to the point that we tend to ignore the opportunities we have to understand what it is we are dealing with and what the consequences of our reactions can, in themselves, do to our health.

One of the first things that we should understand about this flu is that its symptoms are not much different than the typical influenza that are so often immunized against. Just like other strains of the flu, it can show such symptoms as fever, headaches, body aches, coughs and sore throats.

Did you know that according to the CDC, every year, nearly 200,000 people catch the flu and around 36,000 people die from flu-related causes?

What separates this flu from what many of us have no doubt experienced is its chances of reaching our lungs if left untreated, which is why it is considered more dangerous. In fact, there may be several more cases out there that are unaccounted for, especially if the infection is weak and working against a healthy immune system.

That being said, perhaps instead of allowing ourselves to become worked up over the possibility that we might get sick, we should focus on what we can easily do to prevent sickness.

Many of the best was of averting sickness are to do what should be common knowledge by now: Wash your hands after using the restroom or doing something that has dirtied them, cover your mouth when you sneeze (also washing your hands if you sneeze into them) and simply staying away from people you know who are sick.

The masks you often see on television? They offer very little protection, according to a recent report by NBC’s Robert Bazell on what the public should know about H1N1. He suggests that the only people who should be concerned with wearing over the counter surgical masks – which can easily be compromised – are people working in laboratories and hospitals.

Another misconception is that this strain of influenza is transferable through pork products. This is, in fact, not true. According to the CDC, “H1N1 viruses are not spread by food. You cannot get this new HIN1 virus from eating pork or pork products. Eating properly handled and cooked pork products is safe.”

Yes, that’s right, you can eat a hot dog or a piece of bacon without fear of becoming sick. As well you should, because the more you worry about becoming sick and stressing yourself over whether or not you may catch H1N1, the greater your chances of becoming sick anyway.

According to Elizabeth Scott, a stress management specialist and family counselor, estimates suggest that more than 90 percent of doctor visits are due at least in part to psychosomatic reactions to stress. This means that if you are experiencing a great deal of stress, your body will manifest physical symptoms that may resemble certain illnesses.

The basic jest of what is going on with this pandemic should be very clear to the public: If you’re healthy, then simply keep doing what you’ve been doing while making sure you are washing your hands and using good hygiene practices.

And if you catch H1N1? Handling it is easier than the hype might suggest. Contact your doctor or a local physician about the symptoms and sickness and get treated for them. The only thing that might put you in harms way is inaction. Even if some of the aforementioned information doesn’t settle your stomach, perhaps the fact that a vaccine for H1N1 may be ready as early as June will.

Did you know that every year, nearly 200,000 people catch the flu and around 36,000 people die every year from flu-related causes?

In my honest opinion, the only thing we have to fear about the H1N1 outbreak is the fear that can easily be spread through misinformation and misunderstanding. Therefore, do yourself and others a great service and take the time to read about the H1N1 influenza instead of going by what you hear – it may help you more than you think.

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