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Resources for Tracking, Avoiding Swine Flu

The basics

The most comprehensive information on the spread of the deadly new flu strain is coming from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

Since the disease has raised so many health question about symptoms and treatment, you can probably find the answers you’re answers from the CDC, WHO, the NewsHour, WebMD, Washington Post, CNN and many other sites.

In a Thursday afternoon Webcast, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and CDC Acting Director Dr. Rich Besser answered questions about the flu and the government’s response.

For more specific information on flu cases in the U.S., check out the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report and Influenza Weekly Report.

Mapping the outbreak’s spread

As new cases of swine flu pop up around the globe, numerous maps are pinpointing the latest statistics. This BBC map illustrates the day-by-day spread of confirmed cases while this map gives more details about many suspected, confirmed and negative cases. Also, this map compiles reports from numerous sources (Click on “Flu H1N1” to see those cases by themselves).

Using Twitter, technology to track outbreak

The swine flu outbreak has garnered so much attention that it has been mentioned in 2 percent of the recent messages posted to Twitter, the popular microblogging social networking site, according to the Nielsen Company. The U.S. government is taking notice of the flurry of swine flu tweets as it looks few new ways to disseminate public health information, NPR reported. This Twitter search function is good way to get started tracking the swine flu discussion.

The outbreak has also prompted the creation of a flu “wiki” and an ever-evolving timeline and chat site. There’s even a swine-flu tracking iPhone application awaiting approval.

As we’ve reported before, disease trackers sift through search engine data to try to help contain public health threats.

Google has revamped its Flu Trends service to help Mexican health officials track the swine flu outbreak, the Times reported.

What you should do

Though most flu cases are not related to the swine flu strain and regular flu kills more than 36,000 people each year, Mexican health officials are advising people there to avoid crowds, shaking hands, kissing people as a greeting and even using the subway. They say it is best to keep a distance of at least 6 feet between other people to minimize the risk of spreading the disease.

The CDC adds that people should stay home when they are sick, cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and washing hands.

Travel advisories

Check here for the latest travel advisories from the CDC, State Department and the WHO. The New York Times also lists some helpful advice for travelers.

Past influenza scares

Even before concerns about bird flu in recent years, there was another swine flu scare in 1976 that led to these public service announcements about immunization. This series of articles explores the chances of immunizing the entire planet against a massive influenza outbreak. Government health officials have even compiled tales of pandemics past in a storybook format.

The NewsHour and our PBS colleagues have also covered many angles of influenza concerns: looking back at the 1918 flu, exploring the possibilities of another influenza pandemic and what we’ve learned and implemented from past pandemics.

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