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Fast facts on Swine Flu (type A H1N1 virus)

16 May, 2009 12:20  EasyExpat EasyExpat

Read the news and chances are that you’ll find yourself staring at the photo of a pig or a swine flu victim. At the time this article is being written, 33 countries have reported more than 6,600 cases of swine flu worldwide, with less than 70 deaths in total. The figures are based on tallies provided by national governments and WHO. According to the global body's pandemic alert level, the world is at phase 5 — out of a possible 6 — meaning that a global outbreak is "imminent." Whether or not this happens, it’s good to brief ourselves on some of the basic facts about this pandemic. Here are some frequently asked questions as answered by CDC, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

What is swine flu?
Swine flu (swine influenza) is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza virus that regularly causes outbreaks of influenza in pigs. Swine flu viruses cause high levels of illness and low death rates in pigs. Swine influenza viruses may circulate among swine throughout the year, but most outbreaks occur during the late fall and winter months similar to outbreaks in humans. The classical swine flu virus (an influenza type A H1N1 virus) was first isolated from a pig in 1930.

How many swine flu viruses are there?
Like all influenza viruses, swine flu viruses change constantly. At this time, there are four main influenza type A virus subtypes that have been isolated in pigs: H1N1, H1N2, H3N2, and H3N1. However, most of the recently isolated influenza viruses from pigs have been H1N1 viruses.

How does swine flu spread?
Influenza viruses can be directly transmitted from pigs to people and from people to pigs. Human infection with flu viruses from pigs are most likely to occur when people are in close proximity to infected pigs, such as in pig barns and livestock exhibits housing pigs at fairs. Human-to-human transmission of swine flu can also occur. This is thought to occur in the same way as seasonal flu occurs in people, which is mainly person-to-person transmission through coughing or sneezing of people infected with the influenza virus. People may become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose.

What are the symptoms of swine flu in humans?
The symptoms of swine flu in people are expected to be similar to the symptoms of regular human seasonal influenza and include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and coughing. Some people with swine flu also have reported runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Can people catch swine flu from eating pork?
No. Swine influenza viruses are not transmitted by food. You can not get swine influenza from eating pork or pork products. Eating properly handled and cooked pork and pork products is safe. Cooking pork to an internal temperature of 160°F kills the swine flu virus as it does other bacteria and viruses.

How can human infections with swine flu be diagnosed?
To diagnose swine influenza A infection, a respiratory specimen would generally need to be collected within the first 4 to 5 days of illness (when an infected person is most likely to be shedding virus). However, some persons, especially children, may shed virus for 7 days or longer. Identification as a swine flu influenza A virus requires sending the specimen to CDC for laboratory testing.

What medications are available to treat humans with the infection?
There are four different antiviral drugs that are licensed for use in the US for the treatment of influenza: amantadine, rimantadine, oseltamivir and zanamivir. While most swine influenza viruses have been susceptible to all four drugs, the most recent H1N1 influenza viruses isolated from humans are resistant to amantadine and rimantadine.

What can you do to prevent the spread of swine flu?
Here are some simple steps to bear in mind. Firstly, avoid contact with ill people. If you sneeze, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue. Throw the tissue away into a trash can. After you sneeze, make sure you wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand gel.

To round it all up, we don’t know if swine flu is ever going to become a global pandemic on the scale of SARS. What we do know is that we can take some common sense steps to protect ourselves. Like avoiding unnecessary travel to swine flu hotspots, avoiding farms and livestock fairs and cooking pork till it’s well done. While there are 70 reported deaths from swine flu, remember that there are 300,000 deaths in the world each year resulting from common influenza. The trick is to carry on with life, just a little more carefully.

For more detailed information on swine flu, click here.


Sidd Lobo
Freelance copywriter based out of Munich

 

   



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