Swine Flu: Federal Initiative to Fight current and future Variants of Influenza

Update: Now more current data about the virus spreading is being provided by European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), including updates on possible protective measures in a variety of languages. There’s also interesting estimates available from Google Flu Trends.

It did not take the first federal officals getting infected with Swine Flu recently, that media have been filled with material of a possible upcoming "New Flu" (to avoid the impression you’d only get it from pigs…) pandemic. Although most everyone seems to be talking about it, I felt myself way too uninformed concerning proven facts about the current information, in order to be able to tell reasonable cautiousness from public paranoia.
   Which is why I decided to put together the most helpful material I found in this blog post, to save you (if not from the flu) at least from the hassle to collect it all again on yourown.
   Despite the fact that, as that early statistics become available, the H1N1 subtype of Influenza A fatality rate shows to be 'only' no higher than the one of 'regular' flu so far (surprising 5,000 to 7,000 lethal cases in Germany each year), the media echo is still overwhelming compared to other and far more lethal virus epidemia around the world — as plausibly demonstrated by Hans Rosiling of Gapminder in the following video.

On the other hand, the virus is spreading at an impressive speed, including the ominous potential to mutate into a less treatable variant. That said, even considering the current less fatal course of disease within industrialized countries, one will not want to get infected.

To get your personal round-up on H1N1 I recommend the comprehensive introduction by the WHO's Dr Margaret Chan inside the official Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 section on their website. The available material discusses topics such as travelling (many cases are brought in by tourists returning from vacation), food safety (yes, pork is save when prepared at above 160°F/70°C) and prevention (yes, there are measures, which help preventing you from getting/spreading the virus).

Here in Germany the campaign page "Us against Viruses" (in German) by the government and national Robert Koch Institute provide downloadable brochures in several languages as well as a video.

So if I become sick upon returning from a holiday trip or even right in the middle of a workday — how can I tell if I probably got infected with H1N1 ?

The most reliable sources (there’s also very profound coverage by ZDF) I found say, that almost two out of three people catching the virus like won’t realize it at all while their immune system will successfully prevent them from getting sick. The others will likely recognize symptoms like sudden fever, cough/sneeze, fatigue, diminished appetite, nausea and/or looseness often within few hours, but at most up to 3 days after being infected. Since flu is an airborne infection you usually get it from interacting with or at least being near to infected people.
   Self-protection goes a long way here, so recommendations go from, most importantly, regularly and thoroughly washing hands — at least every 3 (!) hours and for half a minute — not forgetting to clean the spaces between your fingers as well. After washing hands keep them cleaner by, yes, choughing or sneezing not into your hand (not even the left one), but into your sleeve and towards your elbow — and of course away from other people. Since you can distribute the virus even without being sick, including going through the entire flu without actually realizing yourself, it is highly recommended to avoid crowded places whenever possible (especially once the illness has reached pandemia state) and of course not e.g. share drinking containers with other people. If you can’t avoid such gatherings, like on planes (and your boss didn’t approve the business class upgrade "for health reasons" ;-)) or buses, face masks also cannot inhibit virus distribution reliably, but do fairly good at preventing people from infecting each other in tight spaces. In buildings regular aeration helps to avoid accumulation of airborne germs and viruses. Finally, it be a good approach to reduce potential threats to your own immune system, such as excessive drinking or sun bathing.

What if one shows the mentioned symptoms ?

If nonetheless you finally think, you may have cought a Swine Flu virus somewhere, it may be wise to as soon as possible (as successful therapy relies on early apllication), not to go and visit your doctor (risking to confront other already weakened patients with a highly infexctious virus), but ask her to come and see you at home instead. Final assurance can only be reached by laboratory examination. A possible infection usually lasts between 5-7 days. Limited volumes of vaccine are expected to become available for the immunization high-risk groups like hospital staff from November this year. In case of any doubts or questions, the German Federal Ministry of Health offers a toll-free hotline: +49 (0) 800 / 44 00 55 0 can be reached Mondays through Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Fridays until 12 a.m. — in special cases the service will be made available at additional times.