The influenza virus spreading in North America and elsewhere in the world is especially worrisome to public health officials because it contains elements of strains that affect pigs, birds and humans. This allows the organism to mutate rapidly and spread easily among humans, and also makes it likely to cause severe, even life-threatening symptoms.

Symptoms of swine flu may include:

• Fever

• Cough, sneeze, runny nose, congestion

• Sore throat

• Aches, pains, fatigue

Travel in Mexico, Southern California or southern Texas within the last week or contact with others who recently have returned from those areas increases suspicion that the symptoms may be caused by the swine flu virus and not the seasonal flu, which is still lingering in Maine. Individuals with severe symptoms and a recent travel connection should seek medical care. The diagnosis can be confirmed within two hours using a nasal swab tested at the state’s public health lab in Augusta.

Health experts say conscientious hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home from school or work when sick will minimize the risk of transmission.

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