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Swine Flu Hoaxes, lies, and misstatements

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As an amazing number of people are telling me and other members of the media that they believe the swine flu scare is either a hoax or was created in some laboratory for a sinister purpose.

While I am trying to investigate such claims (which always seem to lack any specifics which can be verified), I can report on some actual myths surrounding the swine flu.

Eating Pork

First, you don't get swine flu from eating pork. This is an airborne disease and even an infected animal can't pass along a swine flu infection once it is sausage.

This idea probably derives from more than mere hysteria - mad cow disease, for example, can be passed to humans who eat infected animals, even if the meat is thoroughly heated.

See the CDC fact sheet for more common sense data:
http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu/key_facts.htm

Cooking pork, on the other hand, will kill a virus and you almost certainly don't get swine flu by ingesting the virus, but by breathing it in.

It certainly is possible to catch swine flu by close association with a live infected pig that is most likely how it began to spread in the first place.

Best advice: avoid sleeping with pigs.

The danger of swine flu and the fact that it is becoming pandemic is related to the fact that it is easily passed between humans.

Masks

As I reported earlier, the kind of masks being distributed many places around the world simply aren't going to prevent infection from an airborne virus. An N95-rated particulate mask is required.

http://newsblaze.com/story/20090425164857mcco.nb/topstory.html

Hand Sanitizers

The President and health organizations all recommend hand washing as a good way to prevent the spread of the virus. That is good and virtually all health authorities agree that hand washing with soap is a good way to kill the virus. Unfortunately a lot of these same people also recommend the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

There is a major problem with that recommendation. Many of the sanitizers only contain a 40% concentration of alcohol and that isn't enough to kill most bacteria, let alone any viruses.

A CDC Report

http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol12no03/05-0955.htm

cites a University and Veterans Affairs study which shows that at least one store brand 40% alcohol sanitizer actually left MORE bacteria on the hands after use.

In addition, of course, the sanitizers claim to kill 99% and more of the bacteria. But all forms of flu and of the common cold are caused by various viruses, NOT by bacteria.

The study cited above shows that 40% ethanol or a 40% ethanol gel is just as effective as tap water in reducing the bacteria load on hands - in other words, they produced no significant reduction in bacteria count.

"Tap water, 40% ethanol, and 40% ethanol gel yielded no significant reductions in CFU (colony forming units (. The 40% gel supplemented with ethanol to a final concentration of 62% reduced the mean CFU by 90%, a level of reduction similar to that of the 62% ethanol gel. Moreover, the 62% gel and the supplemented 40% gel reduced CFU by >50% on all participants. In contrast, only one third of participants showed >50% reductions with 40% gel, one fifth with 40% ethanol, and none with tap water. Differences in pretreatment CFU were not significant (analysis of variance F = 1.81, df = 4, 27, p = 0.16). In addition to failing to decrease CFU, colonies were more evenly distributed on postwash plates after use of 40% gel. The even postwash colony distribution may be caused by dispersion of aggregates of microbes without sufficient killing."

What this means is that if you want to use hand sanitizers to prevent spreading infections you need to use much stronger concentrations of alcohol, perhaps by mixing rubbing alcohol with the gel sanitizer.

"After conducting experiments, a survey of 6 local retail chains found no substandard products. In the fall of 2005, a more extensive survey of 18 retail chains (supermarkets, drug stores, general retailers, specialty shops) uncovered a substandard product at all 3 stores of 1 deep-discount chain. The marketing profile of deep-discount chains suggests that poorer segments of the population may be more at risk of purchasing inadequate antiseptic gels. Moreover, 40% ethanol products may be stockpiled in homes and offices. An extensive Internet survey identified no additional substandard commercial products. However, the alcohol content of less-common brands was not always available online, and several Internet sites provide recipes for a bubble gum-scented children's hand sanitizer that contains 33% isopropanol [rubbing alcohol] as the sole active ingredient. Educational efforts should emphasize that effective sanitizers must be of a sufficient alcohol concentration.

The efficacy experiments reported here reinforce what has been known for >50 years: 40% ethanol is a less effective bacterial antiseptic than 60% ethanol (6). Consumers should be alerted to check the alcohol concentration in hand sanitizers because substandard products may be marketed to the public."

Apparently the claim that some companies are profiting from this pandemic flu scare is true since they are selling inexpensive hand sanitizers which clearly don't work.

The sad part is that those least likely to have health insurance (the poor) are the same ones who are most likely to buy the hand sanitizers which make no claims about anti-viral activity and those same people are the least likely to understand the difference between a bacteria and a virus.

One very important item missing in the listed report was even one mention of the word "virus."

That is not unusual because neither Germ-X nor Purell mention the word virus on the bottles.

It is vital to remember that all these hand sanitizers claim to do at best is kill bacteria - they don't even claim to kill viruses.

So, while many people seem to believe this swine flu threat is just another way of someone making money, can you blame them entirely?

If hand sanitizers killed the flu virus would it be reasonable to suspect that they would list this critical fact?

Don't waste your money killing bacteria; soap is the best anti-viral cleanser the average person can obtain outside a hospital setting.

John McCormick is a reporter, /science/medical columnist and finance and social commentator, with 17,000+ bylined stories. Contact John through NewsBlaze.

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