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Information On Swine Influenza
What is swine flu?

Swine influenza (swine flu) is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by a type A influenza virus. Outbreaks of swine flu happen regularly in pigs. People do not normally get swine flu, but human infections can and do happen. Most commonly, human cases of swine flu occur in people who are around swine flu viruses and can spread from person to person.

There are three types of influenza viruses: A, B and C. Types B and C are usually only found in humans. Type A can be found in both humans and animals such as birds, pigs, and horses. Influenza viruses happen naturally among pigs, hogs, and boars. Swine influenza is very contagious among swine. It can make some domesticated pigs very sick. It is unusual for humans to catch swine flu viruses, but occasional cases happen, usually in people who have contact with infected pigs. Swine flu viruses have also been reported to spread from person to person in the past, but previous episodes of transmission were very limited. The recent infections are caused by a new strain of the swine flu virus known as Type A, subtype H1N1. That is why this flu is called Influenza A H1N1, or simply H1N1 flu. This new strain seems to be progressing rapidly and humans have not yet had a chance to develop antibodies or protection against it. The swine flu virus is contagious and is spreading from human to human. However, at this time, it is not known how easily the virus is spread between people.

Infected people may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to seven or more days after becoming sick. Children, especially younger children, might be contagious for longer periods.

The symptoms of swine flu in people are similar to the symptoms of regular human flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headaches, chills and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting associated with swine flu. In the past, several illnesses and deaths have been reported with swine flu infection. Swine flu may cause a worsening of underlying chronic medical conditions. Like seasonal flu, swine flu in humans can vary in severity from mild to severe.

You can catch swine flu through contact with infected pigs or environments contaminated with swine flu viruses. Human to human spread has been documented and is also thought to occur in the same way as seasonal flu. Influenza is thought to spread mainly person-to-person by coughing or sneezing from infected people. Droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person move through the air. Germs can be spread when a person touches another person's respiratory droplets that are on a surface like a desk, and then touches their own eyes, mouth, or nose before washing their hands. Germs can be spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs such as a table, doorknob, or desk and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth. Frequent hand washing will help you reduce the chance of getting contaminated from these common surfaces. You cannot get the H1N1 flu from eating cooked pork. Infected people may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to seven or more days after becoming sick. Children, especially younger children, might be contagious for longer periods.

Antiviral drugs approved for human influenza viruses should work in treating H1N1 influenza infection in humans. However, there are no known medications that treat H1N1 influenza infection specifically. Antiviral drugs are prescription medications that can help the flu by keeping flu viruses from reproducing in your body. These include pills, liquids, or inhalers. Antiviral medications are currently recommended only for those patients with moderate or severe illness from H1N1 flu. Most people get better without antiviral medicines. Antiviral medications must be taken within 48 hours after symptoms appear. They may diminish your symptoms, but they may not make your symptoms go away entirely. Currently, there are antiviral drugs, oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza), available that require a prescription. These drugs fight against the flu by keeping the flu viruses from reproducing in your body. If you get sick, antiviral drugs can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious flu complications.

What can you do to protect yourself from getting sick?

There is no vaccine to protect against swine flu. There are, however, everyday actions that can help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses like influenza. Take these everyday steps to protect your health:

Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you sneeze or cough, or sneeze and cough into the area of the upper arm or elbow so as not to have the virus on your hands. Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners, like Purrell, are also effective. Try to avoid close contact with sick people. If you become sick with influenza, you should stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to avoid infecting them. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. The virus spreads in this manner.

If you become ill with influenza-like symptoms, including fever, body aches, runny nose, sore throat, nausea, or vomiting or diarrhea, you should contact your doctor, particularly if you are worried about your symptoms. The emergency warning signs in adults that require immediate medical attention include: difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest, sudden dizziness, confusion, severe or persistent vomiting.

Bottom Line

Swine flu is a serious medical condition. Take precautions and contact your doctor if you believe you have the disease.