(For full coverage of the flu outbreak, click on [nFLU])
* Virus is carried on hands
* Simple hygiene measures are highly effective
By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor
WASHINGTON, April 25 Worried about swine flu?
There is one easy way to protect against infection, health
experts agree -- handwashing.
Global health officials are worried about an unusual new
strain of flu that may have killed as many as 68 people in
Mexico, with 1,000 showing possible symptoms. It has infected
at least eight people in the United States. [ID:nN24462379]
Officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention and the California Department of Public Health said
they expected to find more cases in the coming days and weeks.
Little can be done to prevent an outbreak of flu from
spreading, health experts caution, but they say common sense
measures can help individuals protect themselves.
Number one is hand-washing, they say -- a surprisingly
effective way to prevent all sorts of diseases, including
ordinary influenza and the new and mysterious swine flu virus.
"Cover your cough or your sneeze, wash your hands
frequently," advised Dr. Richard Besser, acting CDC director.
Influenza can spread in coughs or sneezes, but an
increasing body of evidence shows little particles of virus can
linger on tabletops, telephones and other surfaces and be
transferred via the fingers to the mouth, nose or eyes.
Alcohol-based gel or foam hand sanitizers work well to
destroy viruses and bacteria.
Anyone with flu-like symptoms such as a sudden fever, cough
or muscle aches should stay away from work or public
transportation and should see a doctor to be tested.
"If you have the flu, then you shouldn't be getting on the
bus or getting on the plane and traveling," Besser told
reporters in a telephone briefing.
"Social distancing" is another tactic. It means staying
away from other people who might be infected and can include
avoiding large gatherings, spreading out a little at work, or
perhaps staying home and lying low if an infection is spreading
in a community.
Flu experts have also long advised against trying to
stockpile personal supplies of antivirals.
Tamiflu and Relenza are two drugs shown to work against the
current strains of seasonal influenza. Tamiflu or oseltamivir,
invented by Gilead Sciences Inc (GILD.O) and marketed by Roche
AG ROG.VX, is a pill while GlaxoSmithKline's (GSK.L) (GSK.N)
Relenza, known generically as zanamivir, is inhaled.
Both drugs treat a flu infection, making it less serious
and perhaps making the illness last fewer days. But they must
be taken within 48 hours of the first symptoms to do any good.
They can also prevent infection with garden-variety flu if
taken, for example, by a family member caring for a sick
relative. No one knows if they will do the same with the new
And the average person is not going to know when, precisely,
to begin taking the drug. Many infections look like flu, says
pediatrician and immunologist Dr. Anne Moscona of Weill Cornell
Medical College in New York.
Viruses and bacteria alike can evolve resistance to drugs
they encounter frequently. "If you have Tamiflu at home and you
take it for a cold or give it for a respiratory virus that is
not influenza, we will be unable to use these drugs when we
encounter a lethal strain of flu," Moscona says.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)