Swine Influenza, also known as H1N1, is a respiratory virus common in pig populations throughout the world. Although workers associated with pigs sometimes caught the disease it wasn’t until a sudden outbreak in Mexico recently that it came to worldwide attention because of its rapid escalation. The definition of an epidemic is a sudden disease outbreak spreading rapidly in a region. A pandemic is when that epidemic rapidly spreads beyond a region to most countries of the world. Although swine flu is now a pandemic it must not be a cause for sudden panic. Many people falling victim to this illness will suffer quite mild symptoms, in some cases to such a degree they will not even realise they have had swine flu.
But what are the symptoms? As with the usual human flu that does the rounds each winter the basic symptoms are very similar. They involve the following, chills, muscle aches, weakness and fatigue, runny nose, headache, sore throat, coughing and sneezing. There have been reports that vomiting and diarrhoea could also happen to some victims. These health problens are likely to last for about a week or so. Local and national helplines have been advertised in all countries and anyone displaying these kinds of symptoms should phone for advice.
The incredibly rapid global growth of the disease is the aspect that has taken most health officials by surprise. However the widespread world travel of our populations is the cause. Added to that is the poor, ignorant and inconsiderate hygiene habits of many people who blythley pass this disease to others. Simply by coughing or sneezing into a paper tissue and discarding the tissue in a bin and then thoroughly washing hands the spread could be greatly reduced. At home and work by again liberal use of soap and water and the cleaning of hard surfaces with hygiene products the virus can be suppressed.
Many people wonder if they are at risk or indeed be more at risk from catching swine flu due an existing health problem. Present information indicates certain sections of the population are more vulnerable than others. These include, pregnant women, children under five years old or anyone aged over sixty five. The main reason being these groups often have immature or impaired immune systems that might otherwise fight off the virus. Also vulnerable are, anyone suffering from chronic organ problems like liver, kidney, lung or heart disease. Other people at more risk are diabetics and asthma sufferers.
As for treatment many countries are stockpiling vast quantities of vaccines with the intention of inoculating their populations against the virus. Although this strategy will provide protection it will only be against the present strain. Viruses have a nasty habit of mutating and it is then a cat and mouse game to develop another vaccine against the newer strain. Antiviral drug like Tamiflu are now being prescribed to people who have the illness but it should be noted these drugs are only effective if administered with 48 hours of the symptoms appearing. It would therefore be pointless for just everyone to take these drugs as they do not work as preventative medicines.
As for the future outlook the reality is no one knows what will happen. We have had and weathered many scares just like swine flu in the past. Aids has killed thousands globally, then SARS, birds flu and many other diseases threatened to but they thankfully failed to materialise. For now the best advice seems to be understand and follow official guidance, maintain good hygiene and keep up to date with developments.