H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu)
Swine influenza, also called “swine flu,” is a contagious respiratory disease that affects pigs. Just like humans, pigs can get the flu. The swine flu can be passed from pig to pig by direct contact, indirect contact (e.g., a pig coming in contact with a surface that has the virus), or through tiny particles in the air. Strains of swine flu virus usually only infect pigs, but they do sometimes infect humans.
Swine flu is caused by a virus. The most common subtype, or strain, is influenza type A H1N1, and this subtype has also caused infection in people. The letters H and N in the subtype name stand for proteins found on the surface of the virus, which are used to distinguish between different subtypes. Other virus subtypes found among pigs include H1N2, H3N1, and H3N2.
Influenza viruses are constantly changing their genes, a process called mutation. When a swine flu virus is found in humans, it is said to have “jumped the species barrier.” This means that the virus has mutated in a way that allows it to cause the condition in humans. Because humans have no natural protection or immunity to the virus, they are likely to become ill.
Humans do not normally become infected with swine flu. However, there have been periodic human infections; most of these cases occur in people with direct exposure to pigs (e.g., people working on pig farms). People have also infected pigs with strains of human flu virus as well.
Swine flu is contagious. Person-to-person transmission of swine flu has been documented, but it is not clear how easily the virus is spread among people. It is believed that it is spread the same way as regular seasonal influenza. A person who has swine flu can infect others starting 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 7 or more days after becoming ill.
Influenza is spread from person to person when the virus enters the body through the eyes, nose, and/or mouth. Coughing and sneezing release the germs into the air, where they can be breathed in by others. The virus can also rest on hard surfaces like doorknobs, ATM buttons, and counters. A person who touches these surfaces with their hands and then touches their eyes, mouth, or nose can become infected with the virus. You cannot get swine flu from eating pork products that have been properly cooked - heated through to 160°F (71°C).
Symptoms and Complications
The symptoms of swine influenza are very similar to those of seasonal human influenza. People with swine influenza may experience:
* body aches * chills * cough * fatigue * fever * headache * loss of appetite * sore throat
Some people with swine flu have also reported vomiting and diarrhea.
The severity of symptoms can vary from mild to severe and sometimes require hospitalization. In some cases, severe complications such as pneumonia and respiratory failure can cause death. Like the seasonal flu, swine flu may worsen existing chronic medical conditions.
Making the Diagnosis
A doctor can perform laboratory tests that help identify the flu virus. If you have recently traveled to an area of the world where there is a swine flu outbreak in humans and you have any of the symptoms of the flu, you should see your doctor. Be sure to tell the doctor where you have visited. Before you see your doctor, call them ahead of time so that they can prepare for your visit.
Treatment and Prevention
There is no vaccine currently available to protect humans from swine flu. There are medications available to help in the prevention and treatment of swine flu. These are called antiviral medications. There are 2 classes available: M2 inhibitors (e.g., amantadine*) and neuraminidase inhibitors (e.g., oseltamivir, zanamivir).
Most people with previously reported swine influenza have been able to recover fully without medical attention and without antiviral medications. However, recent outbreaks indicate that treatment with antivirals may be needed.
For people who are sick, help yourself get better and prevent the spread of the virus by doing the following:
* Stay at home if you are sick. Do not go to work or school. * Stay at least 1 yard away from other people. * Rest and drink plenty of fluids. * Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Throw your used tissue in the garbage. If you do not have tissue available, cover with your sleeve or hands. Wash your hands thoroughly afterwards. * Wash your hands regularly with soap and water. Make sure to wash your hands with soap for at least 15 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if you don’t have access to soap and water.
There are ways to protect yourself from catching the swine flu. People who are traveling in areas where a swine flu outbreak has occurred need to take special precautions to reduce the chance of exposure to the swine flu virus. Here are some tips to prevent flu:
* Avoid close contact with people who are sick and who have symptoms of swine flu (e.g., fever, cough). * Wash your hands with soap and water frequently and thoroughly. To ensure proper sanitization, you should wash your hands with soap for at least 15 seconds. Use alcohol-based sanitizers if hand washing is not convenient. * Get an annual influenza immunization (flu shot). This may not protect you from swine flu, but it can prevent some strains of human influenza. This helps avoid the situation of becoming infected with both swine and human influenza at the same time. * Practice good health habits such as getting enough sleep, eating a nutritious diet, and staying physically active.
Link to the CDC’s Web site for additional information:
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