HealthCheck

Do masks protect from swine flu?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hospitals in Houston are preparing now for the possibility someone here will get swine flu. So far, there are no confirmed cases in our area, but there is testing being done.

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

Experts tell me there are some suspicious cases. The Houston Department of Health and Human Services sent those specimens to the US Centers for Disease Control for more tests. The health department won't say how many were sent, but either way, doctors and nurses are getting ready.

The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston nurses and doctors are getting ready to treat swine flu patients. First they must be fitted with an N95 mask and then they test it to make sure the seal is tight. One by one some 400-500 people will have these protective masks, but they say what really spreads swine flu, is not so much breathing it but touching it.

Dr Robert Emery says think of swine flu like the spray when you open a soft drink.

"Now when these things settle this is where people may inadvertently touch them and get it in their mouth," said Dr. Robert Emery with UT Occupational Health. "That's why we're emphasizing covering their mouth with when they cough, throw it away, use hand cleaners these sorts of things."

Now there's a jump in both the number of people going to doctors offices and emergency rooms who are afraid of having swine flu.

"They're scared, they're scared, they're panicking," said Joanne Musule who is an LVN that works in family medicine.

But there's no reason to panic say health experts. In fact here's a surprise, Houston doctors we've talked to say swine flu is about like getting the regular flu.

"The big fear isn't justified in terms of people are going to die like flies here," said Dr. Tom Lux with UT Houston Internal Medicine. "If they're exposed to swine flu here, are just likely to be ill for a couple of days and not be a big deal."

People who are at real risk are those who are already sick. But since flu season in Houston is pretty much over, if you do get the muscle aches, chills and high fever it really might be swine flu. If you think you have swine flu, go to your doctor and get a flu test. Medical experts ask people not to go to the emergency room for a swine flu test. They're asking you don't go to the emergency room unless you have a true emergency.

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