(To be fair, Diabetes Health magazine beat me to this topic with some good tips last week. Below is my 2 cents)
Everywhere we turn at the moment, we see breaking news about the swine flu that has infected thousands in Mexico and has made its way into the United States and Europe. As of April 29, the World Health Organization raised the worldwide pandemic alert level to Phase 5, which means "strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize the organization, communication, and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short."
On the other hand, there's rising evidence that this flu may not be nearly as dangerous as flu strains that caused prior pandemics. (One health expert's top tip: avoid sugar to keep your immune system strong -- gotcha)
But what does it all mean for those of us already living with diabetes? A new illness is never a good thing for the chronically ill. Any illness can cause difficulty with eating normally and generally causes excessive high blood sugars. In serious cases, hospitalization may be required. This is why it's been recommended that people with diabetes get their annual flu shot each fall. But with swine flu, the regular flu shot will do you no good. There is no existing swine flu vaccine, but experts are racing to create one.
You may have heard that prevention is key with swine flu. Stay away from those who are sick (or stay away if you're the one sick!), wash your hands, and avoid traveling to places with known infections. Symptoms of the swine flu are deceptively similar to those of regular flu: fever over 100 degrees, aches and pains, chills, headache, cough, sore throat and fatigue. If you live in an area with a confirmed case of swine flu, seek immediate attention from your physician.
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Dr. Steve Edelman, Professor of Medicine at UC San Diego, founder of Take Control of Your Diabetes and a type 1 diabetic, says that swine flu will affect people with secondary medical conditions, such as heart and kidney disease, or the elderly, differently -- and that those people should immediately contact their doctor to receive treatment if they experience flu-like symptoms.
So what's the treatment? Currently the authorities are advising those at risk to take an antiviral medication like Tamiflu or Relenza. For those who have the flu or have been in contact with someone who has the swine flu, Tamiflu can be prescribed by a doctor. It's not over-the-counter, so you can't go and stock up, and it's not recommended that you take it unless you absolutely NEED it. Dr. Edelman reports that Tamiflu should not have any additional impact on blood sugars.
Another thing: you can't get swine flu from eating pork, and you certainly can't get swine flu from taking pork insulin. Trust me, you're safe -- even though the Russians are busy banning pork imports (uneccesary!)
Let's face it, the chances of contracting swine flu are pretty small. Those of us with diabetes really should be more worried about the run-of-the-mill winter flu instead. Last year, over 35,000 people in the U.S. died from the "regular" flu. Only one person so far has died from the swine flu in the U.S. So excuse me for being mother-ish, but I repeat: please always get your flu shot each fall, wash your hands, stay home if you're sick and take care of yourself with some good old fashioned chicken soup (assuming you can keep it down!).
In addition, medblogger Dr. Enoch Choi recently held a valuable educational chat about swine flu, and he'll be doing another one this Wednesday, May 6 from 1-2pm EST. So take my advice (above), bundle up, and be there. Be well.