It seems like the feelings of panic we had with SARS and Avian flu is upon us again except it goes by a different name.
So what is swine flu?
Swine Influenza (swine flu) is a respiratory disease of pigs. It is caused by type A influenza viruses (H1N1) that causes regular outbreaks in pigs. Researchers do not know how the virus is jumping relatively easily from person to person, or why it’s affecting society’s healthiest demographic. These viruses tend to mutate which then makes them transmissible in humans.
This outbreak started in the U.S. in late March and early April 2009 where the first human cases were reported in Southern California and near San Antonio, Texas. So far, everyone sickened by swine flu in the U.S. contracted the disease while traveling to Mexico, the epicenter of this outbreak. Twenty deaths of swine flu have been confirmed in Mexico and those numbers are growing. Worldwide, at least 113 cases have been confirmed. An updated case count of confirmed swine flu infections in the United States is kept at http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu/investigation.htm
Swine flu virus at this point is contagious. The symptoms of swine flu are similar to the symptoms of regular human flu and include fever (>100.5), cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. To put things in perspective, the regular flu kills 250,000-500,000 people yearly. Seasonal flu is now winding down, so any one with flu-like symptoms is considered suspicious, especially if symptoms started 10 days following travel to Mexico or certain states in the United States. Confirmed cases have been found in California, Kansas, New York City, Ohio, and Texas. The difference between seasonal flu and swine flu has been how swine flu is causing fatalities in young healthy people whose immune systems usually protect them.
How does swine flu spread?
It is thought to be transmitted the same way that seasonal flu spreads. Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing of people with influenza. Sometimes people become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it (table, pen, phone, etc) and then touching their mouth or nose.
So it makes sense that this virus can be prevented in the same way. Unfortunately, this virus outbreak started during spring break when many people traveled south, especially high school and college students.
According to Dr. Ira Langini, who works at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Institute at the Hutchinson Research Center in Seattle, Washington, ways to contain this virus includes: social distancing, stay home if you’re sick (and get treatment), close places where groups of people gather, and make medication available. Langini says, “these forms of containment reduce the sickness by nearly two-thirds.”
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), you cannot get swine flu from eating pork, even though some countries like Russia and China are banning imports of pork and pork products from Mexico and 3 U.S. states.
So why aren’t we quarantining people? I think we should…especially since “up to 500,000 people are on planes at anytime,” according to the World Health organization (WHO). The problem is that many researchers say it would not make much difference since many people are asymptomatic or incubating the virus and don’t know that they’re carriers.
Fortunately, many major U.S. airlines are waiving fees for those who want to change their travel plans to Mexico. Yes, please do.
So for now…get tested if you have flu-like symptoms. Treatments include Tamiflu (oseltamivir) or Relenza (zanamivir) for 5 days.
Stay home from work or school if you have milder respiratory symptoms to avoid spreading infection. Wash your hands ALOT!
And lastly, don’t panic, but be cautious.
Mexico City is a metropolis under siege: armed police officers guard hospitals, roads and schools in the city of 20 million are deserted. The swine flu is suspected in 152 deaths and more than 1,600 illnesses in Mexico, but it’s by no means the only country affected.