Elected and public health officials are walking a fine line between expressing serious concern and provoking alarm over a new strain of swine flu that has killed 149 people in Mexico. The World Health Organization raised the threat level yesterday to the possibility of a pandemic and the Centers for Disease Control recommended that Americans cease all "nonessential" travel to Mexico.
During a speech to the National Academy of Sciences, President Barack Obama said:
"We are closely monitoring the emerging cases of swine flu in the United States, and this is obviously a cause for concern and requires a heightened state of alert. But it's not a cause for alarm."
But people with compromised immune systems - such as people with HIV/AIDS - need to be vigilant and take special precautions.
Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, Director of Communicable Disease Control and Prevention at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, told me earlier today that people with compromised immune systems - such as people with HIV/AIDS - are not more at risk for catching the new flu, but there is a greater concern about the severity of the disease.
However, Kim-Farley adds:
"We don't want to be alarmist about it. To date, there are 40 confirmed cases in the US and they are all mild illnesses. The main thing is that if an individual comes back from Mexico with symptoms or has contact with someone who is ill, they should seek medical care. The medication Tamilfu, if given in the first 48 hours, reduces the severity of the disease."
The flu symptoms are: fever, runny nose, lethargy, sore throat, lack of appetite, nausea, coughing and diarrhea.
Kim-Farley says the best prevention is to wash your hands frequently; don't touch your hands to your nose, eyes, or mouth; cover your nose and mouth if you sneeze or cough; and if you're ill, stay home.
"We are asking people to practice good health behaviors out of respect for your own health, as well as respect for the well-being of others."
The US government is closely monitoring the situation "leaning forward" to be prepared should the disease continue to escalate. He says:
"They are taking an abundance of caution to stay ahead of this...and watching closely how it continues to evolve. " Flu strains "do have the tendency to mutate so we're watching it very carefully."
The Public Health website will be continually updated.