Important Information about Swine Flu

Q. Should I avoid senior centers, public transportation, movies and other public places?

A. No. There just aren’t enough cases of swine flu in American communities to warrant such a drastic precaution. “I wouldn’t really change my daily life much except by using the commonsense things all of us know—wash your hands a lot, avoid people who are obviously ill,” says High.

As the situation develops, health authorities are issuing daily and even hourly updates. “If we reach the point where we either have to wear a mask to go out or should not be congregating in highly populated areas, we’ll get a directive from the CDC or local health department,” says Rosenbaum, an infection prevention nurse.

If you’re sick, though, by all means protect others by staying home from work or school and avoiding crowded places. Everyone should use a tissue when coughing or sneezing.

Q. When will there be a vaccine for swine flu? Would a shot for seasonal flu help protect me?

A. There currently is no vaccine effective against the swine flu. Drugmakers are now receiving samples of the virus strain to begin work on a prototype vaccine, but full-scale development and manufacturing efforts will not get under way unless and until health authorities determine the threat warrants it. A safe, government-approved vaccine would not be ready for several months.

Getting a seasonal flu shot is unlikely to protect you from swine flu.

Q. Are there special precautions being taken for people in nursing homes and assisted living?

A. At this stage, the critical point is keeping the virus out of nursing homes, where it could spread quickly among patients who are vulnerable to complications, says Kenneth Schmader, M.D., chief of geriatrics at Duke University Medical Center. “Almost always, it’s a health care worker or family member who brings the virus into the nursing home,” he says. No one with respiratory illness should be making a visit now. Check out APIC’s “Be a good visitor” brochure for more information.

Long-term care facilities should have plans in place for coping with pandemic flu—and should be reviewing them now, says Schmader. The CDC recommends that such plans should include assigning a point person to monitor developments, protocols for tracking flulike symptoms among residents, and policies for isolating infected residents—in a single unit, for example. Adherence to the CDC guidance varies widely, judging from a study of Michigan and Nebraska nursing homes coauthored by the University of Michigan’s Lona Mody, M.D., and published last summer in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It found that while three-quarters of facilities had assigned a staff member to handle pandemic preparedness, half did not have a plan in place. About half had stockpiled commonly needed supplies like gloves and hand sanitizer, but less than half had conducted staff education on pandemic readiness.