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Director's Comments Transcript: Swine Flu 04/28/2009

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Greetings from the National Library of Medicine and

Regards to all our listeners!

I'm Rob Logan, Ph.D. senior staff National Library of Medicine substituting this week for Donald Lindberg, M.D, the Director of the U.S. National of Medicine.

Here is what's new this week in MedlinePlus.

To listen to Dr. Lindberg's comments, click herelisten

While swine flu is now a pressing public health issue in the U.S. and many other nations, the number of cases, severity, and public health responses vary globally.

As of this writing U.S. officials have encouraged Americans to avoid non-essential travel to Mexico and declared a public health emergency (which is a preparatory response).

Janet Napolitano, the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, explained a public health emergency paves the way for branches of the U.S. federal, state, and local governments to work together to prepare vaccines, and assist health care providers, clinics, and hospitals prevent cases – or care for persons who may get swine flu in the future.

The U.S.' current precautionary, preparatory stance seems based on the reduced gravity of reported swine flu cases in the U.S. It also buys time to scientifically assess the virus. Most of the U.S. cases diagnosed (to date) are described as mild and treatable, and U.S. officials, including President Barak Obama, urged Americans not to panic.

Public health officials also note scientists have not had time to assess the current H1N1 strain of swine flu virus in specially equipped labs in the U.S. and Canada. More sophisticated tests could reveal in–depth information about the virus' characteristics plus the similarities and differences from past swine and other flu strains. This kind of information often has paved the way to better prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and management.

Swine flu fostered an aggressive response in Mexico where schools and many public events, including soccer matches, were canceled. The public health impact in Mexico has been serious; about 150 persons have died of swine flu in Mexico and case estimates are significantly higher than in other countries.

As a result of a swine flu outbreak in Mexico, the U.S., Canada, and several other nations, the European Union's health commissioner recently discouraged non-essential travel to the U.S. and Mexico. Some nations announced actions to monitor borders and tourists. These steps reflect widespread concern about the global health and international economic impact of pandemic flu. A confirmation of the highest level of pandemic flu by the World Health Organization could disrupt travel, daily routines and the economies of many nations besides Mexico. Currently, the World Health Organization's swine flu pandemic monitor is at level four – level six is when an international pandemic is underway.

In conjunction with the emerging developments in the U.S. and globally, just added a swine flu health topic page that provides background information and will help you keep up a dynamic and evolving situation. We will provide more information about the page's resources in a moment.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Controls (CDC) explain swine flu is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza virus that has spread to humans in the past, but previous person–to–person transmission has been limited.

The CDC reports swine flu is contagious, but they note scientists do not yet understand how the virus spreads between people. The CDC adds flu viruses normally are spread by exposure to coughing or sneezing of someone who is infected.

Unfortunately, the CDC notes it sometimes takes seven days before someone becomes sick (or exhibits symptoms), so the virus can be spread in its earlier stages by someone who is unaware that he or she is ill.

The CDC notes the swine flu's symptoms are similar to seasonal flu and include: fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue.

Incidentally, about 36,000 Americans die annually from seasonal flu. However, these deaths often occur among older Americans, or persons who already are seriously ill or sometimes have a compromised immune system. The challenge of the current swine flu cases is it tends to impact otherwise healthy young adults. That worries public health officials because such a scenario triggered international pandemics in the past.

Some practical precautions suggested by the CDC are:

  • Avoid close contact
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze
  • Clean your hands frequently
  • Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, and nose
  • Practice other good health habits, such as adequate sleep, moderate exercise, and eat a balanced, healthy diet.'s new swine flu health topic page provides direct links to some of the CDC's background information in the 'overviews' section.

A link to frequently asked questions (about swine flu) provided by the World Health Organization is available in the 'start here' section.'s swine flu health topic page also provides a link to: the latest news, some related issues (such as travel health precaution information), some current research, and some pertinent related health topic pages, such as bird flu, flu, and animals diseases and your health.

We should add the information in this podcast was current as of the morning of April 28, 2009. The scientific, clinical, and public health implications of swine flu will change. Please look to's swine flu health topic page for the latest information.

To find's swine flu health topic page, type 'swine flu' in the search box on's home page. Then, click on 'swine flu (National Library of Medicine).'

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