Flu threat is real, so take sensible precautions

It didn’t take long for what had been called "swine flu" to mutate into what experts now are calling North American flu, a rather generic descriptor for a nasty form of influenza that has killed more than 150 people in Mexico and sickened hundreds more worldwide.

There’s a lot we don’t know about this virus, and scientists are especially puzzled by the deaths of many young, healthy people in Mexico whose immune systems should have been able to fight off the virus.

Because this is a new strain of influenza, we’re months away from the production of a vaccine that will protect against it — if indeed an attempt is made to create such a vaccine. By the time it were ready for widespread use, the global threat from this virus may have run its course.

Today we learned that the bug appears to have reached Minnesota. Details are sketchy, but schools have closed in the Cold Spring area near St. Cloud. So now we’re being asked to walk that fine line between preparing for the worst while still trying to maintain a sense of normalcy.

What does that mean to the average resident of southeastern Minnesota? Frankly, it means we should follow some of the age-old social prescriptions for staying healthy and helping others do the same:


• Wash your hands regularly.

• Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough.

• Don’t "tough it out" if you begin feeling ill. Stay home from the office, and keep your sick child home from school or day care.

One word of caution concerning this flu outbreak is that people shouldn’t wait until symptoms get really bad before seeking medical attention. It appears that some of the deaths in Mexico probably could have been prevented if victims had gone to the hospital earlier.

For now, however, the best advice we can give people is to throw open the windows, enjoy the fresh air and spend as much time outdoors as possible. Walk the dog, ride your bike or go fishing.

And if you’re firing up the grill, go ahead and toss on some pork chops. One thing we do know about this flu strain is that you can’t contract it by eating pork.

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