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Swine flu still lurking in plain sight

September 8, 2009 7:03:08 PM PDT
The buzz surrounding swine flu may have dimmed lately, but its dangers have not. Scientists say the virus has the potential to mutate into a more virulent form, but for now it is actually more docile than the regular flu.

"Most of the people who have gotten the H1N1 virus have recovered actually more rapidly than we would expect with even seasonal flu," said Dr. Jeff Radakovich of Washington State University's Health and Wellness Center.

So far, fewer than 600 deaths have been blamed on swine flu, but with the winter flu season right around the corner, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says those numbers could reach into the tens of thousands.

The virus may be possibly lurking on everyday items such as door handles, phones, even elevator buttons, anything an infected person has touched.

"It remains living on surfaces for 24 to 48 hours," said Dr. Paul Holtom of USC.

"After you touch it and it gets on your hands, it may live for up to five minutes on your hands," added Holtom.

Holtom, who specializes in infectious disease at the Keck School of Medicine at USC, says a high fever is the best indicator of swine flu, something that should keep people home.

So, when is a person with swine flu no longer a threat to spread the disease?

Holtom says there is no real consensus. A person could be contagious five to seven days after his fever breaks, but the odds of spreading swine flu plummets once he starts feeling better.

"Most people would be safe to go back to their normal activities 24 hours after they begin feeling better, and they stop having a fever," explained Holtom.

In the meantime, federal health officials say the flu medicines Tamiflu and Relenza will only be used to treat people who are sick with the flu.

Government doctors had earlier alluded to the possibility that the drugs may be given as a preventative measure.

The swine flu vaccine is still in production, and it's taking longer than expected to make. It consists of two shots you have to take three to four weeks apart.

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