Fact: Hardly any of the dire predictions about swine flu have proved to be ac1 curate. It has not infected large numbers of people. It has not resulted in high rates of hospitalization. It has not caused a larger-than-expected number of deaths.
To learn more about the swine flu, we spoke with infectious disease expert William Schaffner, MD. Here, he answers your questions…
How common is swine flu? As of June 11, 2009, when the World Health Organization declared the global outbreak of swine flu to be a pandemic, there have been 28,774 cases worldwide, including 144 deaths in 74 nations. The US has had 13,217 cases and 27 deaths.
To put this in perspective, up to 50 million Americans get normal, seasonal flu in an average year and about 36,000 die from it.
- Isn't swine flu more dangerous than regular flu? No. The rate of hospitalization in cases of confirmed swine flu is about 0.7%, roughly the same as that of seasonal flu. If anything, swine flu appears to be milder, if only because it mainly affects young adults, who are less likely to experience flu-related complications than older people.
- Why are young people more at risk? About 64% of swine flu patients are between the ages of five and 24. Only about 1% of confirmed cases occurred in people 65 years old or older. Possible reason: In general, children are the main flu reservoirs. They haven't been exposed to as many viruses as older adults and thus are less likely to have protective antibodies.
In addition, millions of older adults have been exposed to related flu strains in the past. They developed antibodies that appear to offer at least partial protection against swine flu.
- Who is at risk for getting seriously ill? People with diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other diseases that weaken the immune system, Pregnant women also are at greater risk. These groups of people are at greater risk for getting seriously ill with seasonal flu, too.
New finding: Researchers noted that obese patients with swine flu were more likely to get seriously ill than thinner patients. This probably is because very large individuals have more difficulty expanding their lungs, which increases the risk for fluid buildup and pneumonia.
- How is the disease transmitted? Flu mainly is spread by droplet transmission. Someone sneezes, coughs or merely exhales, and virus-filled droplets are expelled. If you inhale the virus or get it in your nose or eyes, there's a good chance that you'll develop the flu. The virus also can survive in eye and nose secretions on the hands.
Wash your hands often. It won't eliminate the risk of getting swine flu, but it reduces the odds.
- Do face masks help? The surgeon's masks that many people wore when the virus first emerged might have limited the spread somewhat. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn't recommend them, because it is difficult to assess their potential effectiveness in community settings.
Exception: The N95 respirator, designed to be worn by workers in hazardous environments, can be tightly sealed around the face and probably is effective in protecting you from getting the infection. The problem is that these masks are hot and uncomfortable, and they make it difficult to breathe. They aren't practical for daily life.
- Should I see a doctor if I think I have swine flu? If you're sick, call your doctor. Don't risk infecting other people in the doctors office or emergency room. Many doctors will give flu-related advice and sometimes a prescription for an antiviral drug over the phone. In general, the only people who really need to worry are those who feel extremely ill and those with a high risk of getting the flu (such as those with impaired immunity or lung disease). If you fall into this category, have a prearranged plan with your doctor.
Mom's Diet May Affect Baby's Sex
Women who ate high-calorie diets with a wide range of nutrients around the time of conception were more likely to deliver boys. Women who ate breakfast cereal daily had more boys...those who seldom ate cereal had more girls.
Caution: Even if you hope for a girl, do not restrict calories-your baby needs nutrients. Do not avoid cereal-it often has folic acid, which combats birth defects.
Brainy Babies Come from Moms with Big Hips
Researchers analyzed data from the National Center for Health Statistics. On average, children born to mothers with relatively more fat in the hip area and narrower waists performed better on tests of cognitive function than other children did.
Theory: Women with hourglass figures store more fat on their thighs and buttocks...and this fat contains polyunsaturated fatty acids that aid fetal brain development.
New Procedure Boosts Fertility in Men
As many as 15% of adult men in the US have A varicoceles, varicose veins impeding blood flow through the testicles, which sometimes affect fertility.
Now doctors can do a minimally invasive venous embolization-a procedure that blocks blood flow to the varicocele-by passing a catheter through the groin. This improves the motility of sperm.
Recent finding: Within six months of having the procedure, more than 25% of patients reported that their partners were pregnant. Rare side effects include minor bleeding and inflammation in the scrotum.
Fans Help Babies Survive SIDS
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) may occur when babies' access to fresh air is blocked.
Study: Infants who slept in a room with a fan were 72% less likely to die of SIDS...those who slept in a room with an open window were 36% less likely.
Theory: Airflow reduces the chance of rebreathing trapped carbon dioxide.
Warning: Bumper Pad Danger
All 22 bumper pads examined in a recent A study were found to carry a risk of causing suffocation or strangulation.
Reasons: An infant's head can get wedged between the pad and mattress...and some pads have ties longer than the industry standard of nine inches.
Autism Twice as Likely in Tiny Babies
Autism risk is more than double among infants who are born prematurely or at low birth weight. Risk is higher for premature and low-birth-weight girls than for similar boys, even though autism itself is more common in boys. About one in 150 children in the US is autistic.
Quit Smoking for a Happier Baby
Researchers rated nine-month-old babies on mood, receptivity to new things, and eating and sleeping regularity. Compared with babies whose mothers smoked throughout pregnancy, babies whose mothers gave up cigarettes while pregnant were significantly more easygoing.
Upshot: Here's yet another reason to quit smoking.
Breast-Feeding Boosts IQ
Mothers were urged to feed newborns only MI breast milk for at least three months. At age six, these children did better academically and scored six points higher on IQ tests, on average, than their peers who in infancy had received other foods in addition to breast milk. Breast milk contains high levels of nutrients that promote brain growth.
Recommended: Nurse exclusively for at least three months and preferably six months.