Swine Flu is a respiratory tract infection from the hogs which now is a worldwide virus outbreak. Flu is otherwise a common disease and not dangerous. But when a new influenza virus emerges for which people have little or no immunity it becomes dangerous. Because people were not earlier susceptible to it, therefore, no medication or vaccine could have been developed.
There are phases of this outbreak. The disease first comes to humans from animals and then from humans to humans. Person-to-person spread causes fast spread. At this moment, swine flu is a global problem and declared pandemic by WHO.
Swine flu viruses do not normally infect humans. But, randomly, the human race gets infected with Swine flu. Most frequently, these cases occur in persons with direct exposure to pigs.
Human-to-human transmission of Swine flu happens in the same way as seasonal flu occurs in people, which is mainly through coughing or sneezing of people infected with the influenza virus. This way infected droplets spread into air and get breathed by people around making them at risk of flu development.
Influenza A virus (H1N1) is a subtype of influenza virus A and the most common cause of influenza (flu) in humans. Some strains of H1N1 are endemic in humans. This also includes the strain responsible for the 1918 flu pandemic which killed 20-100 million people worldwide.
Less virulent H1N1 strains still exist in the wild today, worldwide, causing a small fraction of all influenza-like illness and a large fraction of all seasonal influenza. Other strains of H1N1 are endemic in pigs (swine influenza) and in birds (avian influenza).
What Happened To The Virus that Caused Swine Flu?
As the name suggests swine influenza strain is responsible for the present pandemic. The virus isolated from patients in the United States was found to be made up of genetic elements from four different flu viruses:
- North American Mexican influenza,
- North American avian influenza
- Human influenza
- Swine influenza virus typically found in Asia and Europe
This new strain appears to be a result of reassortment of human influenza and swine influenza viruses, in all four different strains of subtype H1N1.
Reassortment is the mixing of the genetic material of two similar viruses that are infecting the same cell. In particular, reassortment occurs among influenza viruses, whose genomes consist of eight distinct segments of RNA. These segments act like mini-chromosomes, and each time a flu virus is assembled, it requires one copy of each segment.
Preliminary genetic characterization found that the hemagglutinin (HA) gene was similar to that of swine flu viruses present in U.S. pigs since 1999, but the neuraminidase (NA) and matrix protein (M) genes resembled versions present in European swine flu isolates. The six genes from American swine flu are themselves mixtures of swine flu, bird flu, and human flu viruses.
On June 11, 2009, the WHO declared an H1N1 pandemic, moving the alert level to phase 6.
The virus is contagious and can spread from human to human. Symptoms of swine flu in people are similar to the symptoms of regular human flu such as cough, fever, body aches, sore throat, chills, fatigue, and headache.
Swine flu is a respiratory tract infection. This infection is a worldwide virus outbreak that started in Mexico and eventually spread from one country to another.
People may also become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then they touch their mouth or nose.
Contrary to belief, you cannot get the influenza virus by means of eating pork or pork products. Proper cooking of pork or pork products with an internal temperature of 160°F will kill the swine flu virus as it does with other bacteria and viruses.
What Are The Symptoms?
- Lack of appetite
- Sore throat
- Nausea, vomiting
- Diarrhea and coughing
Treatment of Swine
If you get sick, there are two antiviral drugs (Tamiflu and Relenza) available with prescription. These can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious influenza complications.
Antiviral drugs work best if started as soon after getting sick as possible, and might not work if started more than 2 days after illness starts.
It should be noted that many people make full recovery without any medication.
How Can It Be Prevented
- Frequent washing of hands with soap and water or with alcohol-based hand sanitizers, especially after being out in public.
- Anyone with flu-like symptoms such as a sudden fever, cough or muscle aches should stay away from work or public transportation and should contact a doctor for advice.
- Social distancing is another tactic or staying away from other people who might be infected and can include avoiding large gatherings, public transport etc.
Alert levels indicate the severity of disease spread. They are better known as phases. The outbreak of swine flu has caused the World Health Organization to steadily raise its alert levels. Let us understand them.
In nature, influenza viruses circulate continuously among animals, especially birds. Even though such viruses might theoretically develop into pandemic viruses, in Phase 1 no viruses circulating among animals have been reported to cause infections in humans.
An animal influenza virus circulating among domesticated or wild animals is known to have caused infection in humans. this now is therefore considered a potential pandemic threat.
An animal or human-animal influenza reassortant virus has caused sporadic cases or small clusters of disease in people but has not resulted in human-to-human transmission sufficient to sustain community-level outbreaks.
Viruses containing two or more pieces of nucleic acid (segmented genome) from different parents. Such viruses are produced in cells coinfected with different strains of a given virus.
Limited human-to-human transmission may occur under some circumstances, for example, when there is close contact between an infected person and an unprotected caregiver.
It is characterized by verified human-to-human transmission of an animal or human-animal influenza reassortant virus able to cause “community-level outbreaks.”
The ability to cause sustained disease outbreaks in a community marks a significant upward shift in the risk for a pandemic.
Any country that suspects or has verified such an event should urgently consult with WHO so that the situation can be jointly assessed and a decision made by the affected country if implementation of a rapid pandemic containment operation is warranted.
Phase 4 indicates a significant increase in risk of a pandemic but does not necessarily mean that a pandemic is a forgone conclusion.
It is characterized by human-to-human spread of the virus into at least two countries in one WHO region. While most countries will not be affected at this stage, the declaration of Phase 5 is a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent.
It is the pandemic phase and is characterized by community level outbreaks in at least one other country in a different WHO region in addition to the criteria defined in Phase 5. Designation of this phase will indicate that a global pandemic is underway.
Post Peak period
During the post-peak period, pandemic disease levels in most countries with adequate surveillance will have dropped below peak observed levels. The post-peak period signifies that pandemic activity appears to be decreasing; however, it is uncertain if additional waves will occur and countries will need to be prepared for a second wave.
Previous pandemics have been characterized by waves of activity spread over months. Once the level of disease activity drops, a critical communications task will be to balance this information with the possibility of another wave. Pandemic waves can be separated by months and an immediate “at-ease” signal may be premature.
Influenza disease activity will have returned to levels normally seen for seasonal influenza. It is expected that the pandemic virus will behave as a seasonal influenza A virus. At this stage, it is important to maintain surveillance and update pandemic preparedness and response plans accordingly.
Swine Flu – Beliefs and Myths
With every disease come falsely knit stories which over a period become our beliefs and we do not even question them. Swine flu is no exception. Let us see what is prevalent out there along with the outbreak.
I Would Get Swine Flu if I Eat Pork
Swine flu is not similar to Mad Cow Disease. The disease spreads via contact with a contaminated area or person, then contact with either the eyes, nose, or mouth of the prospective infected.
Cooked pork can’t possibly be ever infected because cooking and preparation make sure that the meat is clean and healthy for consumption.
There Is No Treatment
Currently, there is no vaccine available. But research is going on and expected to be out soon. There is a treatment available.
Zanamivir and oseltamivir are neuroaminidase inhibitors i.e. they’re a type of antiviral drugs that inhibit cell reproduction of viruses so that they won’t spread in the patient’s body. The Center for Disease Control has highly recommended their use for the treatment and control of the disease.
If I Get It, I Would Die
Yes! the disease has the potential to kill but most people recover fully. It is treatable and you can recover from it.
It Is not that contagious
It is a contagious disease. It spreads through the contact points and droplet infections. Regularly washing your hands before eating is a step in the right direction. If you have this disease in your city, social distancing is a good idea.
Lastly, every flu is not Swine flu. You can still get affected by regular flu. Colds, coughs, chills, and fatigue are the usual signs. If you’re okay after a few days, that was just the normal flu. However, if the symptoms persist or you start to vomit or start suffering from diarrhea, then it’s swine flu and you better call for a doctor.