Just wash your hands.
Every year, hundreds of viruses pass through the pediatric and adult community. Many of the bugs are disruptive and keep kids out of school and adults away from work. Some of the viruses have unique signs and symptoms, but most just cause amorphous aches, sneezing, coughing or intestinal upset.
Influenza viruses, especially new ones, trigger more news stories and can be made to seem much more frightening and dangerous than they really are. Government agencies and media don’t supply statistical context and make it sound like you’ve got a “fifty-fifty” chance of contracting this new virus. They then make it sound like a lot of people who get this influenza end up in the hospital and may die. Statistically, nothing could be further from the truth: The chance that the new virus is really dangerous is small. The chance that you’ll get it is much, much smaller, and the possibility that you or a family member will be harmed by the virus is so slim that the news should be on page twenty, not page one.
Swine Flu is a virus for which there is no vaccine, little to no threat to your family, and there are undoubtedly tens of thousands of harmless undiagnosed cases throughout the world. The news stories are probably taking a hundred questionable respiratory deaths in Mexico and guessing.
There actually is a very, very small chance that this virus could cause severe illness and whenever this occurs hospitalization and even fatalities are reported. The likelihood of a pandemic is miniscule, but newspapers, government agencies and the manufacturers of pharmaceuticals do their best work and make their biggest sales when people are scared.
Broadcast media get major sponsorship from the pharmaceutical industry and do not always present the “other side” of the story. Tamiflu is recommended for treatment and prevention of this influenza virus. Local pharmacies are already running low on Tamiflu.
Connect these dots.
The usual boring admonitions apply: wash your hands, stay well-rested and well-hydrated. You do not need to buy Tamiflu. It is an effective antiviral drug but has possible side effects.
As far as our office prescribing Tamiflu, we would rather not, but we will if you insist. I promise you that I personally am purchasing none for my family and would recommend the same to you.
Jay N. Gordon, MD, FAAP