Experts: Swine flu will come to Houston

HOUSTON [SWINE FLU: Symptoms, questions and answers and more]
[INTERACTIVE MAP: Map and timeline of swine flu cases]

Houston medical experts say eventually residents can expect that we will have people in Houston come down with swine flu. But they also say if we're careful, it won't spread rapidly. And with rapid treatment, people can recover.

What is the swine flu? We asked Dr. Herbert DuPont, the director of infectious diseases at the University of Texas School of Public Health, to explain it.

"The virus in this case, a pig virus, swaps genes with a human virus that's in the pig, and it becomes a supervirus that can infect either," Dr. DuPont said.

Fear arises because cases are increasing rapidly in Mexico, and because it's a similar flu strain that killed 50 million people worldwide in 1918. How worried should we be?

"Maximum worry -- that's a 10. I say this is a four," Dr. DuPont said. "It's a worry because of what it has done in Mexico, and the proximity of Mexico to the United States. But I'm just not sure how widespread it will become."

The words that public health officials kept using over and over were 'pay attention.' If you shake someone's hand, use a hand sanitizer afterwards, or wash your hands. Avoid large crowds, and if you get what you think are flu-like symptoms, see a doctor because there are medicines to help.

Dr. DuPont explained, "It's flu. It's not a cold, so yes, you have sore throat. Yes, you have a runny nose. But the key thing is fever. When people have fever with a respiratory infection, it's likely to be influenza."

A test will show if it's flu, and if it is, antiviral medicines like Tamiflu and Relenza will help.

Kathy Barton of the Houston Department of Health said, "We also want people who are infected to get an antiviral medication that will shorten the course of their illness."

For those antiviral medicines to work, you must take them within the first 48 hours of the symptoms. So, as soon as you get flu-like symptoms and you're concerned, see your doctor.
Harris County Public Health & Environmental Services has established a phone bank to answer the public's questions regarding swine flu. That phone number is 713-212-0200. It is currently operating Monday through Friday, 8am to 8pm.

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