What nurses can tell patients about swine flu


swineflu2You’re often on the front lines for patient queries about today’s most talked about medical news. As patients panic, you’ll likely be fielding calls with questions ranging from “Can I get swine flu from my Mexican nanny?” to “Can I get swine flu from pork?” (Both have been overheard at the emergency clinic!)
The answer is: Probably NO. Not unless your nanny – or your pork chop – traveled to one of the swine flu hot spots in the past two weeks.

Here are some talking points from a blog post on, at which our friend Enoch Choi, a family medicine physician practicing urgent care at Palo Alto Medical Foundation, is a founding member.

Patient: Do I have swine flu?

Nurse: That depends: Have you traveled recently?

If, in the past week, you’ve been to Mexico, San Diego, Imperial County or Texas, and have come back with a flu-like illness with fever, sore throat, cough, runny nose, and possibly vomiting and diarrhea, you should be tested.

If you have an untypeable flu (one that doesn’t match any flu that has been seen before), it could be swine flu. If you’re diagnosed with swine flu, you may benefit from Tamiflu pills or a Relenza inhaler.

Patient: How do I avoid swine flu?

Nurse: Here’s what you can do to protect against the virus:

* Avoid those who cough.

* Ask those who do to cover their cough (not with their hands but with a mask or something similar).

* Practice good hygiene with hand washing.

* Try not to touch your eyes, nose and mouth.

Patient: What should I do in the event of an outbreak?

Nurse: Make a plan for you and your family. Below is a checklist on how you could manage if your community were disrupted for two weeks:

* Store food and water.

* Have enough medication for at least two weeks, especially if you have a chronic illness.

* Determine how you’d manage your children if they couldn’t go to school for two weeks.

* Put together a communications plan with your family (e.g., where to meet in case of disaster).

Patient: How will I know what’s going on with the swine flu?

Nurse: Check the following resources daily:

* The American Public Health Association has a great site at with these and other good suggestions.

* Follow the CDC on Twitter at and at (the CDC has promised to update daily at 3 p.m. Eastern).

Enoch Choi
Enoch Choi, MD, is a full-time family medicine physician practicing urgent care as a partner at Palo Alto Medical Foundation where he sees patients using an electronic medical record (EMR), as well as online via a personal health record (PHR), enabling transactions such as prescriptions and referrals. He is the product manager of community as a founding employee at Choi has an active EMR consulting/expert witness practice for clients such as Sutter Health, Epic Systems and Misys. His past EMR/PHR/community product management roles at Medicalogic enabled the company to go public and acquire Medscape. He serves on the boards of Palo Alto Community Fund, Palo Alto Menlo Park Parents Club, Abundant Life Christian Fellowship Medical Ministry and Menlo Park Presbyterian Church Medical Missions. Choi volunteers his time as an adjunct clinical instructor of internal medicine at Stanford University Medical School, as a provider at the Community Pregnancy Center of Mountain View and with Google Co-op Health Topic.

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