No Ham on Reye

Ok, BuckMD here again, and using a catchy, cryptic title to see if people are still blogging during the summer months!  What is “No Ham on Reye” all about?

The H1N1 influenza is a newly mutated virus composed of strains from pigs, birds and humans.  Technically, it is not Swine Flu, since there are specific types of influenza that occur in pigs.  You will have to blog with a veterinarian to find out more about pigs with runny noses and fever, but I understand this does happen. 

Anyway, I am still seeing some references to this outbreak using “Swine Flu” as the name, rather than the more scientifically based “Novel Influenza A (H1N1) type” title used by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  So, I am being liberal in using Ham as a swine metaphor, but it just looked better than “Novel Influenza A (H1N1) type on Reye”.

The Reye part refers to Reye’s Syndrome, which is a rare but serious nervous system disorder associated with certain viral infections and the use of aspirin and other products containing medicines known as salicylic acid or salicylates.  These compounds, which are used in lots of medicines found in the drug aisle, are generally used to treat pain and fever.  In the 1980’s, we found that, rarely, children treated with salicylates developed confusion and delirium when these medicines were given for viral illnesses like influenza.  A few of these children fell into comas and died.  A tragic end for what started with a short-term illness.  There have also been a few cases of Reye’s syndrome in adults.

Since then, most children’s cold and flu medicines have taken salicylates out of their formulas (formulae, for the Latin scholars out there), and use acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain and fever busting. 

My point – with more flu in the community, it is wise to avoid using salicylate-containing products to treat your symptoms.  Read the ingredients on the products in your medicine cabinet before you take them for your next fever or cold symptom.  For more information, check out the National Reye’s Syndrome Foundation website.

Roger Miller, MD, for BuckMD