The H1N1 virus, also known as the swine flu, received extensive media coverage in 2009. Worldwide outbreaks put families in a state of panic, worry and emergency. Representatives from World Health Organization announced an international state of emergency, and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released in depth public service announcements. All of a sudden, a new, serious, and potentially deadly disease appeared to come out of nowhere.
About Swine Flu
Believe it or not, the flu virus is very common among swine. The term “swine flu” was coined due to test results showing that genes in the H1N1 virus were very similar to strains of influenza that is commonly found in pigs, according to the CDC.
With humans, there are three strains of influenza: A, B, and C. Influenza A and Influenza C are actually found among swine populations as well. Pigs and humans can actually transmit infections between one another by acting as carriers.
In actuality, the swine flu appears to be a combination of flu viruses. Viruses are constantly mutating and changing, and scientists are still trying to determine how the swine flu came about. Regardless of this fact, the swine flu is dangerous because people are not naturally immune to the disease. The swine flu is very different from other strains of the seasonal flu.
No matter its origins, you should think of the swine flu as you would think of the seasonal flu. Just like the regular flu, the H1N1 swine flu is not necessarily a serious condition, and just like the regular flu, the H1N1 swine flu will harm some more than others. The swine flu isn't a new, killer disease, and in actuality, the regular flu is responsible for killing people too.
Swine flu symptoms resemble other flu sicknesses, and it is almost impossible to distinguish the swine flu from the regular flu based on symptoms, alone. Because of the similarity between symptoms, it is possible that the H1N1 pandemic remained undetected for a period of time.
Swine flu symptoms include:
- Sore throat
- Body aches
- Loss of appetite
Like the regular flu, serious cases can cause pneumonia or neurological problems among children and those who are at risk for developing flu-related health complications. You'll likely need to see a doctor if you are at risk from serious complications from the seasonal flu. As with the seasonal flu, the swine flu can cause death in rare circumstances.
Causes And People At Risk
The H1N1 type A influenza virus is spread by human to human contact. The disease has been nicknamed "swine flu" because the virus's biology is similar to sicknesses found in pigs. It is unknown whether pigs actually infected humans.
You can catch swine flu just as you would catch a regular flu. Be wary of people who are sneezing, and be sure to exercise good hygiene during flu season. If exposed to the virus, you could get sick.
Some people have an increased risk for complications. You are considered at risk to suffer complications from the swine flu if you:
- are pregnant
- have emphysema
- have diabetes
- have a chronic lung disease
- are a young child
- are over 50 years old
- have a weakened immune system
The swine flu is difficult to diagnose since symptoms closely resemble the regular flu. You will need to see a doctor for a specialized test to determine whether you have the flu or swine flu. The test is called RT-PCR, which stands for reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction and studies the DNA of the virus.
Prevention And Treatment
A 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine is available in limited doses. Once vaccinated, you are protected for about a year. Otherwise, prevent the transmission of germs by washing hands frequently and avoiding contact with people who appear to be sick.
For treatment, you will need to wait for the virus to go away on its own. Antiviral medications might help in severe cases. Take over-the-counter medications as you would with the seasonal flu. See a doctor if your symptoms become very serious or if you are considered to be someone who is at-risk.
Home treatment tips include:
- Get as much rest as possible. The more sleep a person has while infected by the swine flu, the more his or her immune system can fight off the infection.
- Use pain relievers if necessary. An over-the-counter pain reliever like Tylenol or Advil can provide relief, but should only be used as needed.
- Drink lots of fluids. Just like the common cold or seasonal flu, it is important to drink plenty of fluids during recovery from the swine flu. Water, juice and soups can help keep a person hydrated.