Confirmed cases of swine flu, a virus that normally infects pigs, have been detected in people in Mexico, the U.S., New Zealand, Canada, and the U.K.  Earlier today, President Obama said that the recent outbreak of swine flu is a matter of concern but "not a cause for alarm."  He went on to say that there are now 40 confirmed cases of the illness in the U.S....that's twice the number currently reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Around the world, health officials are scrambling to see whether infections have occurred in their countries, and gearing up to prevent its spread.  

So what do these rising numbers mean for you?  It's still too soon to know for sure just how bad this outbreak will be.  The good news is that for the most part, health officials are erring on the side of caution to prevent the disease's spread.  Just this morning, health officials in Sacramento closed a local middle school because a student there is ill with what may be the new strain of influenza.

Here's what you need to know to keep your kids safe from swine flu:

How can I tell if my child has swine flu?

The incubation period for swine flu is short...about 48 to 72 hours.  After that period, people who are infected may experience fevers over 100 degrees, body aches, headaches, cough, runny nose, and sometimes, nausea and diarrhea.  In addition to the symptoms mentioned above, children who are breathing abnormally fast or slowly may be affected.  These symptoms are similar to the standard strain of influenza, so it can difficult to distinguish one from the other.  When in doubt, contact your health care provider.   

Is there a vaccine?

There is no vaccine currently that exactly matches the swine flu. Health officials are still trying to determine if the virus is sufficiently similar to circulating forms of influenza that are covered by current vaccines.  If this is the case, these vaccines may offer some limited protection from swine flu.  In addition, if you were one of the millions of people in the U.S. who were vaccinated against swine flu during the 1976 pandemic, you may get some limited protection from the current strain of the virus.  Vaccine makers are working on putting together a vaccine to counter the the strain of swine flu currently in circulation, but this process can take as long as 3 to 6 months.  

How can I protect my family? 

Good hygiene and caution are your best defense against swine flu.  Remind kids (and yourself) to wash hands frequently and cover coughs and sneezes.  Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.  At school, teachers and administrators can eliminate shared hand-held items, such as hall passes, until the threat of a pandemic passes.

Is it safe to eat pork?  

The short answer to this question is yes, it is safe to eat pork.  For more detailed information, check out MNN Food blogger Robin Shreeve's Swine flu: Can you get it from pork?

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