Here's what asthmatics need to know about swine flu

John Bottrell Health Pro
  • By now most of us know about the swine flu, but do we know what it is and how to prevent it?  Should we be panicked?  As asthmatics, should we purchase a giant bubble and move into it? Are we doomed?  Will this be another pandemic like The Great Flu of 1918?


    Well, no, we are not doomed.  And of course we asthmatics don't need to isolate ourselves into a bubble.  Sure diseases can travel over the world in a day now, but medical wisdom has grown exponentially since 1918.


    Besides, living in a bubble wouldn't be any fun anyway.  Instead of panicking, we should educate ourselves and become vigilant, something us Gallant Asthmatics love to do anyway. 

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    According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the swine flu is a typical respiratory virus that usually only effects pigs, but has mutated and now can be contacted by humans, and spread by human to human contact by breathing in air droplets of people you come in contact with, or by touching contaminated surfaces. 


    The virus then infects cells of the nose, mouth and throat, and usually takes 3-5 days for symptoms to surface.


    Government officials have said there is no reason to panic, and I agree.  Still, According to a press release from the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology "Asthma sufferers more at risk of swine flu", asthmatics may be at greater risk.


    The article quotes Dr. Thomas B. Casale, executive vice president of the AAAAI: 


    "As with other influenza viruses, this virus typically attacks the respiratory tract. So if you have a chronic respiratory condition like asthma, it can take a turn for the worse, exacerbating your asthma."


    Still, according to the Mayo Clinic, most cases (98%) are generally mild.  Yet it's good to be vigilant of the flu symptoms, and contact your physician right away if you have a:


  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

    Note please that the experts advise you see your family physician and not to panic and rush to already busy emergency rooms.  If you are having asthma symptoms, you should follow your Asthma Action Plan, and call your physician or go to the ER as appropriate.


    Instead of panicking, or moving into a bubble, or wearing a mask in public like Michael Jackson has for years, what you should do is make sure you are taking your asthma controller medicine and follow these recommendations of the CDC

    • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
    • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
    • If you get sick with influenza, CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.
    • Try to stay in general health
    • Get plenty of sleep
    • Be physically active
    • Manage your stress
    • Drink plenty of fluids
    • Eat nutritious food. 

    While the majority of those in contact with this virus have had mild symptoms (some may not even notice they have it), a few will develop serious complications such as pneumonia and respiratory distress, and about 1-2% will die (which is the average for any year). 


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    Our goal here is to prevent it from becoming serious.  This is where vigilance comes in handy again.  If you notice any of the following symptoms as recorded by the CDC, you should go to the emergency room right away:


    In children emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:

    • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
    • Bluish skin color
    • Not drinking enough fluids
    • Not waking up or not interacting
    • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
    • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
    • Fever with a rash

    In adults, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:

    • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
    • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
    • Sudden dizziness
    • Confusion
    • Severe or persistent vomiting

    There is no treatment for the influenza virus, but if you call your doctor within the first 48 hours of symptoms he can prescribe Tamiflu or Relenza, antiviral medications.  The bird flu has shown sensitivity to this antiviral medicine, which can reduce symptoms and even decrease duration of illness. Tamiflu is also safe for asthmatics.


    Other treatment would include treating the symptoms.  If you are dehydrated from vomiting a doctor may have you treated with hydration therapy.  If you have asthma, your doctor may prescribe additional anti inflammatory medicines such as systemic corticosteroids.


    So, according to Dr. Casale asthmatics are at greater risk for developing complications from the swine flu, yet we need not panic.  Most of us are gallant asthmatics who take good care of ourselves and effectively manage our asthma all the time anyway, so we are always prepared.


    For the latest updates on swine flu and flu symptoms, click here.

Published On: April 29, 2009