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By now, you may have heard news reports that a variation of the influenza virus — known as "swine flu" — has caused major health concerns in Mexico and around the globe. Since this situation is changing rapidly, we want you to know the basic facts of swine flu, so you can be prepared.

What is swine flu and how is it affecting humans?
Swine flu is typically a respiratory illness in pigs caused by an influenza virus. Rarely, it can be transmitted to humans. Influenza viruses are constantly mutating. Once in a while, a virus shifts its genetic structure enough that our immune systems don't offer protection. This new swine flu virus has evolved as a combination from human, swine and avian (bird) influenza.

What are the symptoms of swine flu?
Symptoms are similar to those of a regular flu. They include fever, cough, fatigue and lack of appetite. There may also be some vomiting and diarrhea along with the respiratory symptoms.

What should I do if I am feeling symptoms of the flu?
Your Virginia Mason health care provider can help diagnose and treat symptoms related to the flu. In addition, providers are being updated on the swine flu situation and can help you determine the best treatment options, if they suspect you are at risk. If you wish to schedule an appointment, call (888) TEAM-MED. If your situation is an emergency, please call 911 immediately.

What is the current situation, and how can I stay informed?
There have been confirmed outbreaks in countries around the globe, including the United States. The Centers for Disease Control confirmed cases in Washington State on May 5. For the latest information, visit the Centers for Disease Control Web site on swine flu.

What does "public health emergency" mean?
The situation is not a pandemic, but is cause for concern. The CDC declared a public health emergency, which provides additional access to resources for taking preventive steps to protect the public, such as educational outreach and extra medical supplies. 

What is Virginia Mason doing?
While it is difficult to anticipate what might happen, Virginia Mason is confident it is well prepared for the situation. The medical center has a pandemic plan prepared, and in situations like these Virginia Mason works in collaboration with other regional hospitals and local and state governments. We practice every year for helping the public in case of a widespread, sudden outbreak of illness. 

Will my annual flu shots protect me from the swine-flu virus?
No, the shot doesn't protect against this particular strain of virus. However, it's still important to get your flu shots every year to protect against other forms of influenza. 

What can I do to help?
There are three primary things you can do to help reduce the spread of flu or other illnesses:

  1. As always, wash your hands and use good hand hygiene. The best way to reduce the spread of the swine flu and other illnesses is by keeping your hands clean. This means following proper hand-washing techniques or using an alcohol-based sanitizing solution.

  2. Cover your cough, because it is a critical way to stop the spread of germs.

  3. If you start having flu-like symptoms, stay home and rest. Proper rest is your best defense if you are sick. Also, don't risk spreading germs to the public. If your symptoms require medical attention, don't hesitate to contact your provider.
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