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Putting Swine Flu in Perspective

7 Facts to Consider if You're Fearful About Swine Flu
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 1, 2009 -- Swine flu is big news. Cases are rising in the U.S. and other countries, there's no vaccine, it's a brand-new virus, and it's teetering on the brink of a pandemic.

But remember, there's no "panic" in "pandemic."

Swine Flu Outbreak: Get the Facts

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Learn more about the H1N1 swine flu and see what you can do to stay healthy.

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Swine flu has sickened at least 141 people in the U.S. and 365 people worldwide, according to the CDC and World Health Organization's tally of lab-confirmed swine flu cases as of Friday, May 1.

But those numbers are changing all the time; the CDC and WHO web sites are updated once daily.

Swine flu is serious, for sure. But have some people crossed the fine line between reasonable concern and unwarranted alarm?

A new poll from the Harvard School of Public Health shows that of the 1,067 participants, 59% said they're washing their hands more often and using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer in light of swine flu. That's in line with CDC recommendations. And school closings are appropriate if cases are confirmed in students or staff, according to the CDC.

But that same Harvard poll shows that 17% of participants said they are avoiding Mexican restaurants or grocery stores and 13% said they thought you could get swine flu from eating pork. You can't get swine flu from eating pork or any other foods, and there is no reason to avoid Mexican restaurants or other businesses.

There have been reports of people in the U.S. rushing to buy face masks. Glenn Taylor, a shift manager for a CVS/pharmacy store in the Atlanta area, says people have been asking for the masks all week. He says when he got some in today, he sold them all, 15 or 20 packages, each containing two masks.

"A lot of people have been asking about them all week," he tells WebMD. "Everybody is out. There was a run on hand sanitizer. We're out of that, too. I think it's mostly a few people who are really concerned, and they just want to be prepared."

Mike DeAngelis, a spokesman for the CVS/pharmacy chain, adds that sales for such items have been brisk all across the country. "Current supply levels are low, and we do have some stores currently out of stock,” DeAngelis says. “We are working with our suppliers to get more masks as well as the other items into our stores to help meet the increased demand.”

But most people don't need masks at this point, says Michael Smith, MD, WebMD's chief medical editor, in his blog.

CNN reports that proms are being canceled, and in Alabama -- which isn't on the CDC's list of states with confirmed swine flu cases -- officials have reportedly canceled all high school sports events in light of swine flu concerns.

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