What you need to know about the Swine Flu or the Human Swine Influenza A (H1N1) virus that has hit Mexico, the United States, Canada, and other parts of the world.
What is Swine Flu?
Swine Influenza or swine flu is a type of respiratory disease in pigs caused by type A influenza virus that regularly causes outbreaks of influenza in pigs. The disease is normally not passed on to people but human infections can and do happen. A few cases of swine flu viruses have been reported to spread from person to person but in the past, transmission was only limited and not sustained beyond three people.
What were previous incidences of human swine flu infections?
In 1988, an outbreak of swine flu infection in pigs in Wisconsin, USA resulted in multiple human infections. Although no community outbreak resulted, the virus was transmitted to a few people including the health care workers who had close contact with the patient. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US also reports approximately one human swine flu virus infection every one to two years but from December 2005 to February 2009, 12 cases of human infection have been reported.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of swine flu in humans?
The symptoms are similar to the symptoms of regular human flu and include fever (temperature above 38 degrees Celsius or 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit), cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, aching joints, nasal congestion and fatigue. Some people with swine flu also have reported diarrhea and vomiting. Like seasonal flu, swine flu may cause a worsening of underlying chronic medical conditions.
How does swine flu spread?
The swine flu virus can be directly transmitted from pigs to people and from people to pigs. Human infection are most likely to occur when people are in close proximity to infected pigs such as in pig barns (babuyan). Human-to-human transmission is thought to occur in the same way as seasonal flu, which is mainly through uncovered coughs and sneezes or by touching your mouth or nose with unwashed hands.
How can a person get infected by the swine flu virus?
A person can get infected if he/she touches something contaminated with the virus and then touches the eyes, mouth or nose. The virus can live on surfaces for several hours, like a doorknob just touched by someone who sneezed into his hand. Germs also spread in the air through droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person.
Can people catch swine flu by eating pigs or pork?
According to scientists and doctors, the swine influenza virus is NOT transmitted by food. Eating properly handled and well-cooked pork and pork products is safe. Cooking pork at a temperature of 160°F kills the swine flu virus as it does other bacteria and viruses.
How to protect or prevent oneself from getting infected?
There is currently no vaccine available yet to protect against swine flu. For now, these steps can help protect your health:
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth because germs spread this way.
- Stay in good general health. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- If you get sick with influenza, stay home and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.
Are there medicines to treat swine flu?
The Center for Diease Control recommends oseltamivir or zanamivir for the treatment and prevention of swine flu. These antiviral drugs are prescription medicines that fight against flu by keeping the virus from reproducing in the body. Specifically, these flu drugs are Tamiflu by Roche and Relenza by GlaxoSmithKline.
What should be done if a person is showing swine flu symptoms?
Stay home and avoid contact with other people as much as possible to keep from spreading your illness to others. If you become ill and experience any of the following warning signs, seek medical care as soon as possible.
In children emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Bluish skin color
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Not waking up or not interacting
- Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
- Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
- Fever with a rash
In adults, emergency warning signs include:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe or persistent vomiting
Source: US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov)