As the human swine flu outbreak continues to spread, with more questions than answers about its origin and ferocity, it's important for people to remember that there are preventive measures that diminish the chance of being infected.
The new strain of swine flu emerged earlier this month in Mexico, where it is suspected of killing more than 100 people. Since then, it has spread to numerous states including New York and Ohio, and federal officials were wise to issue a nationwide public health emergency declaration over the weekend.
Though the number of confirmed cases in the United States remains low so far, the actual number of people who are ill from swine flu is believed to be significantly higher. As with other viruses, verified cases are an indicator of the rate of infection.
The government's declaration enabled the Department of Health and Human Services to coordinate response to the disease on state and local levels, determine infection rates, notify medical professionals of the newest treatment guidelines and work on development of a vaccine. On an individual basis, health officials continue to emphasize that people are not powerless.
This new strain spreads easily from person to person, moving in much the same way as other influenza viruses -- mainly through the coughing or sneezing of those who are infected. Therefore, the three most important precautions advised by the Centers for Disease Control are:
* Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze, or use an alcohol-based hands cleaner.
* Cover your nose and mouth, preferably with a disposable tissue, when you cough or sneeze.
* Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, which can spread germs.
People also can boost their chances of avoiding the flu by maintaining other healthy habits -- getting adequate sleep, being physically active, drinking plenty of fluids and eating nutritious food. The CDC advises ill individuals to stay home from work or school and limit contact with others.
The disease spreads easily, but there is no reason for unwarranted fears to do the same.