“Swine flu won’t kill you, but it will unlock the door and leave it open for the real killer to come in.”
“That killer is almost always pneumonia,” said Jim Bowen, a retired virologist from Austin and former vice president at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. “That’s why you watch for fever and other symptoms returning after the flu should have ended, because it may mean the flu is over but pneumonia is taking hold, and that can be fatal.”
Bowen told the M&Ms’ meeting at the First United Methodist Church in Johnson City about flu virus and how it works, and the swine flu in particular.
Getting flu and pneumonia shots is the first defense, he said.
“But just as there are several kinds of flu going around, there are six or eight types of pneumonia. The shots protect against the most common ones, but if you catch a different flu, you still get sick, and if a different pneumonia follows it, you get even sicker.”
He explained that a disturbing aspect of swine flu is that in some cases, it has managed to get past all the body’s defenses and infect deep in the lungs. Even if the flu quickly dies out there, it opens a path for pneumonia, which can be fatal. In the worst cases, the patient has died within 24 hours of the appearance of the first symptoms.
“That’s going to happen in only a very small percentage of cases,” Bowen added, “so there’s no reason to be frightened of swine flu. It does show, however, that we ought to have a deep respect for swine flu, get our shots, try to avoid catching it, and treat it appropriately if we do get it.”
Fortunately, he added, Blanco County residents are probably the best informed rural county in the country because of the attention and media coverage the disease has had here. Stay on top of it and stay healthy, Bowen concluded.
“And wash your hands!”