Bisher AKIL, MD

Do I have to?

In General Health on April 28, 2009 at 7:43 pm

As the media coverage of this infection spreads, I have been asked more questions. Here are some of them:

1. Should I cancel my trip to Mexico? The CDC is recommending against unnecessary travel to Mexico. Similarly, many countries have done the same. I recommend canceling all unnecessary travel for the time being to any destination. 

2. Are airplanes safe? Not clear. This was reported earlier today in the NYTimes: “Most of Boeing’s airplanes have air filtration systems with “similar performance to those used to keep the air clean in hospitals, operating rooms and industrial clean rooms,” according to Jim Proulx, a Boeing spokesman. “These filters are very effective at trapping microscopic particles as small as bacteria and viruses,” Mr. Proulx continued. “All Boeing production airplanes have HEPA filters, which are effective at capturing greater than 99 percent of the airborne microbes in the filter air.”- However, if you are sitting next to someone with Swine Flu (or within 6 feet from that person) then filters will not be of much use to you.

3. Should I wear a mask?: Face masks and respirators (see below) are most useful for people who are in crowded settings, such as classrooms, subway or airplanes, where they will protect the mouth and nose from germs and reduce the likelihood of coughing or sneezing on other people.

4. Would any mask do? No! Don’t count on those disposable masks to completely protect you against the swine flu. These are loose-fitting and designed largely to help stop droplets from spreading from the person wearing the mask. They also protect the wearer’s mouth and nose from splashes. They are not created to protect the wearer from breathing in very small particles. Respirators, on the other hand, are made for just that. They are similar in appearance to the relatively inexpensive face masks but are designed specifically to protect the wearer from breathing in such particles. These masks, known as N95 for its filtering ability, fit more snugly on the face than face masks so that most air is breathed through the filter material. They work best if they are fitted specifically to the person wearing the mask. so wear the correct mask (N95) and fit them snugly on your face.

5. Is this it? Am I now protected? No.  Face masks and respirators should be used along with other precautions, such as frequent hand-washing, covering coughs, staying at home if ill and avoiding crowds.

6. Should I panic now? No absolutely not. This is preventable and treatable illness. If you protect yourself and others, use common sense and do not ignore symptoms, then we will all be better.

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