Swine Flu: Facts, Myths and Whether to Worry

Dr. Mehmet Oz gives tips for families on how to prevent swine flu infection.

ByABC News
April 27, 2009, 6:23 AM

April 27, 2009— -- Amid the media flurry surrounding reports of swine flu worldwide, the public may worry about receiving mixed messages on what to do to address the threat.

Health officials learned over the weekend that more than 1,600 people in Mexico are possibly infected with the swine flu virus. With the first confirmed case in Spain, the disease has hit European shores. And the tally of confirmed swine flu cases in the United States has now hit 40, according to a statement by the World Health Organization on Monday. Health officials have warned that this number is likely to rise.

But what does it mean for the public in general, now that there's an official state of public emergency? "Oprah" Show Health Expert Dr. Mehmet Oz talked to "Good Morning America" this morning about how the public should interpret what's going on, and what people can do to protect their health.

"We hear the word emergency and, of course, our first reaction is, 'What's going on here?'" Oz told "GMA "anchor Robin Roberts. "That's a very normal response; we're human. Someone says 'emergency,' you jump back."

Still, health officials and infectious disease experts said that the federal government took the step of declaring a public health emergency to mobilize resources to better confront the swine flu menace, however it may evolve.

"We're not really going to know for sure what's going on until another week or so," Oz said.

Even as federal health agencies declared a public health emergency, most infectious disease experts emphasize that there are steps people can take to safeguard their health. These simple preventive measures include washing hands frequently and avoiding people who are coughing or sneezing.

"There is a role for everyone to play when an outbreak is going on to try to reduce the impact," said Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "At an individual level, it's important people understand how they can prevent respiratory infection. Frequent hand-washing [is an] effective way to reduce transmission of diseases."

Also, the best way to avoid getting sick is to avoid close contact with sick people:

"[Prevention is] no different than any other pandemic flu, and those are kind of simple things -- wash your hands a lot, don't shake hands or hug or kiss people if you're sick, don't go to work, self-quarantine yourself," said Peter Katona, an associate professor at the University of California-Los Angeles Medical Center.

The situation with swine flu is rapidly evolving, but here are some answers to questions on the top issues. Get the latest from the U.S. Centers on Disease Control and Prevention here: http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu/

Here are some other Web sites for more information on swine flu:

CDC: How to Protect Yourself From the Flu

CDC's Flu Toolkit

Tips from the American Academy of Family Physicians for dealing with the flu through familydoctor.org

AAFP tips on cold and flu in children

Sources: CDC, World Health Organization and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

ABC News' Huma Khan contributed to this report.