Swine flu has parents seriously worried. With the suspected death toll mounting in Mexico and at least 64 confirmed cases in the United States, there's good reason to worry. One New York City school is closed because dozens of students have fallen ill.
Parental fears get amplified when the public-health experts say, correctly, that they don't know what's going to happen next. "We don't know how worried we need to be," says Joseph Bocchini, chairman of the department of pediatrics at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center. "We know that this is a virus that has caused severe disease in Mexico. But so far the cases that we know of in the United States have been mild. The potential for this to become a pandemic is real, but we don't know how likely that is."
Is it time to start hoarding Tamiflu and face masks? Not yet, Bocchini told me today. "We don't need to change what we routinely do for our children right now," he says. Instead, he says, parents can put their worry to good use by getting prepared, in case this outbreak turns out to be really ugly.
Here are five ways to do something about protecting your family from swine flu without going bonkers, gleaned from pediatricians like Bocchini and other experts:
1. If a family member has a flulike illness, call the doctor right away. The new swine flu can be treated with antiviral medicines, but those medicines work only if taken within a day or two after symptoms start.
2. To reduce the risk of infection, follow the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 5 simple habits: (a) Keep your distance from people who are sick; (b) make sure family members wash their hands often; (c) stay home when sick; (d) cover your mouth and nose when coughing; and (e) avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
3. Cancel that trip to Cancún. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends postponing nonessential travel to Mexico until the outbreak there is resolved.
4. Start thinking about what your family would do if your school or day-care center were closed because of swine flu cases in your community. Many companies have emergency plans that encourage telecommuting, for instance. The pandemicflu.gov site has advice for families and employers, including checklists for schools and employers.
I take some comfort in knowing that my fellow mommybloggers are also freaking out over swine flu. New York Times parenting columnist Lisa Belkin even copped to dragging a sniffly kid to the doctor yesterday for a flu test. She knew in her heart that the sniffles were just allergies. The doctor probably knew, too. But in these scary times, no doc is going to give a parent a hard time for wanting to lay those worries to rest.