The 2009 flu pandemic of swine flu is a hot topic in the media at the moment, and has been for several months now. Properly known as influenza A virus subtype H1N1, the swine flu has quickly spread around the world since its discovery earlier in 2009. Since H1N1 reached pandemic proportions (the World Health Organization, or WHO, announced this in early June), the outbreak has wreaked havoc around the world and has disrupted everything from travel and classes to business meetings and political rallies. There are more than confirmed 94,000 cases in over 120 countries, and over three thousand deaths have been attributed to the swine flu worldwide as of the start of September.
Here are a few important things to know about swine flu, and to keep in mind to protect yourself and others!
Though a serious threat and concern, swine flu is not that dangerous on a mortality basis. According to the WHO, the vast majority of hospitalizations and deaths were people that had an underlying and preexisting condition such as heart disease, diabetes, or asthma. It was the combination of these factors and the added immune system detriments of the swine flu that caused the case to become more severe. In the United States, roughly 4% of those who contract the virus will require hospitalization, and 0.1% of cases end in death. The seasonal flu seen each year has higher death rates. The biggest risk of the flu is from contracting pneumonia as a result.
“Swine flu” is actually a misnomer. The name caught on early after the discovery because initial tests seemed to point at influenza carried by pigs as the source for the new disease. Though initially thought to be caused by a mutation and recombination of genes from influenza viruses found in swine, further testing has shown that the outbreak is actually due to a new strain of the H1N1 virus not found in pigs. People who have contact with pigs are at no greater risk than those who do not, as the current virus is transmitted between humans, not swine. Pork products are in no way dangerous as a result of the swine flu pandemic.
Swine flu’s initial symptoms are similar to those of a common cold. Coughing, sneezing, headache, and sore throat along with a runny nose and fever are the most common symptoms. General discomfort will be similar to any other strain of flu or dozens of other viruses that cause sickness in humans. The best thing you can do is stay warm and hydrated if you experience these symptoms. In rare cases, seizures, persistent vomiting, severe dehydration, sudden dizziness, and shortness of breath have been reported – if these symptoms present, go to a hospital immediately.Swine flu is transmitted between people just like any other flu. The swine flu virus spreads very easily between people. Coughing, sneezing, even breathing on a person can transmit the disease through tiny droplets of moisture carrying the virus. Surface contact is another method. Because of this, the wearing of facial masks is of minimal benefit as they are not designed to filter out viral and other biological agents, but rather for large dust and related particles in industrial use.
It is as easy to prevent the spread of swine flu as it is any other flu. Though world governments, the WHO, and doctors across the globe are working to develop and effective vaccine and treatments for the swine flu, when it comes down to it the swine flu is no different from your normal winter cold season. Washing your hands regularly is the single best thing you can do to protect yourself from the dangers of swine flu. Person-to-person transmission of the swine flu is relatively easy, so if you have any sort of symptoms of the flu stay inside and try to avoid contact with people. A balanced diet will help support your immune system, making it possible that you could fight off an infection before you even knew you had it. Getting enough rest, regular exercise, and usual good health measures will have the same result. Vaccines are being developed, so if you are at risk for the flu (the elderly, pregnant women, and so on) pay attention to local health bulletins about when they will be available. Under-equipped and underfunded developing countries are at the greatest risk, so avoid traveling to them.