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Cases of swine flu in countries including Mexico, the United States, Canada, Spain, and the United Kingdom have sparked international headlines about the possibility of a pandemic — the worldwide spread of a potentially deadly illness. But the reality is that health officials are still assessing the threat and there's no evidence that the swine flu virus is any worse than the common seasonal flu.

Thousands of cases of swine flu have been confirmed in the United States. Most patients reportedly recovered or are recovering.

So far, there's no evidence that this strain of swine flu is any more serious than seasonal strains of the common flu. And while news reports are discussing the possibility of a pandemic, health experts don't know how rapidly or how far swine flu will spread.

More About Swine Flu

Swine flu is a contagious respiratory disease that causes outbreaks in pigs year-round. The virus can spread to people who have contact with infected pigs. It spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes around someone else. People can become infected by touching something with the flu virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose, or eyes.

You can't get swine flu from eating pork or pork products. Eating properly cooked pork is safe. Cooking meat to an internal temperature of 160° F kills viruses and bacteria.

Symptoms of swine flu are similar to the common flu: fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue, and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting. Swine flu also can cause pneumonia, which can make it hard to breathe.

Kids need immediate medical attention if they have any of these symptoms:

  • fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • bluish skin color
  • not drinking enough fluids
  • very sleepy or lethargic
  • in babies, being so irritable they don't want to be held
  • fever with a rash
  • flu-like symptoms improve, then return with fever and a worse cough

Health officials can test for the swine flu virus by taking sample swabs from patients' noses and throats. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working with drug manufacturers to find out whether antiviral medicines already used to treat flu symptoms will help with this strain of flu. Vaccines currently given to prevent against seasonal flu are unlikely to prevent swine flu, the CDC says.

What This Means to You

To help protect yourself and your family from swine flu, the CDC recommends:

  • Washing your hands frequently with soap and water or hand sanitizer, and avoiding touching your eyes and mouth. Stay abreast of your county and state health news reports and follow public health department recommendations.

  • If you get sick, cough or sneeze into tissues instead of your hands. Stay home from school or work, and limit contact with other people to prevent the spread of illness.

  • Contacting your health care provider if you have flu symptoms, and live in or have recently traveled to affected areas.

  • Contacting your health care provider if you have flu symptoms, and recently traveled to Mexico.

Generally, kids without chronic health conditions tolerate infection with flu viruses fairly well. But if your child does have a chronic condition, like asthma, make sure to check with your doctor to help ensure the condition is under control. Like regular seasonal flu, swine flu can trigger problems in underlying chronic conditions.

Listening to news reports about swine flu can upset kids because they may focus on worst-case scenarios. You can help ease kids' fears by making sure you're available to answer any of their questions.

You can tell kids that at the moment, there's no need to panic about swine flu. The media and governments are on high alert to prevent a pandemic. The last flu pandemic that was serious enough to affect millions of people happened a century ago — before people had access to the medical knowledge, care, and medications that we have today.

For more information, visit our KidsHealth library.

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