What is swine flu?H1N1 Swine flu is a respiratory disease, caused by influenza type A which infects pigs. There are many types, and the infection is constantly changing. Until now it has not normally infected humans, but the latest form clearly does, and can be spread from person to person – probably through coughing and sneezing.
What is new about this type of swine flu?The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed that at least some of the human cases are a never-before-seen version of the H1N1 strain of influenza type A. H1N1 is the same strain which causes seasonal outbreaks of flu in humans on a regular basis. But this latest version of H1N1 is different: it contains genetic material that is typically found in strains of the virus that affect humans, birds and swine. Flu viruses have the ability to swap genetic components with each other, and it seems likely that the new version of H1N1 resulted from a mixing of different versions of the virus, which may usually affect different species, in the same animal host. Pigs provide an excellent ‘melting pot’ for these viruses to mix and match with each other.
What are the symptoms?Swine flu symptoms are similar to the symptoms of regular flu and include fever of over 100.4°F, fatigue, lack of appetite, and cold. Some people with swine flu have also reported runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Nearly everyone with flu has at least two of these symptoms.
So, how do you know if you have flu or just cold?There is one clue: when you have the flu, you feel flu symptoms sooner than you would cold symptoms, and they come on with much greater intensity. With the flu, you may feel very weak and fatigued for up to 2 or 3 weeks. You’ll have muscle aches and periods of chills and sweats as fever comes and goes. You may also have a stuffy or runny nose, headache, and sore throat.
Can I compare flu symptoms with cold symptoms?Yes. The following chart can help you compare flu symptoms with cold symptoms. Use it to lean the differences and similarities between flu and cold symptoms. Then, if you get flu symptoms, call your doctor and ask about an antiviral drug.
|Fever||Rare||Characteristic, high 100-102 degrees F); lasts 3-4 days|
|General aches, pains||Slight||Usual; often severe|
|Fatigue, Weakness||Quite mild||Can last up to 2-3 weeks|
|Extreme Exhaustion||Never||Early and prominent|
|Chest Discomfort,Cough||Mild to moderate; hacking cough||Common; can become severe|
Doctors may offer a rapid flu test, but what you need to understand is a negative result doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have the flu. Only lab tests can definitively show whether you’ve got swine flu.
How dangerous is it?Symptoms of swine flu in humans appear to be similar to those produced by standard, seasonal flu. These include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, chills and fatigue. Most cases so far reported around the world appear to be mild, but in Mexico lives have been lost.
What should I do to stay safe?Anyone with flu-like symptoms who might have been in contact with the swine virus – such as those living or travelling in the areas of Mexico that have been affected – should seek medical advice.
What measures can I take to prevent infection?Avoid close contact with people who appear unwell and who have fever and cough. General infection control practices and good hygiene can help to reduce transmission of all viruses, including the human swine influenza. This includes covering your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, using a tissue when possible and disposing of it promptly.
What is the treatment?Antiviral drugs can be used to treat swine flu or to prevent infection with swine flu viruses. The anti-viral medicines oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) are being used to treat people with swine flu. Antiviral drugs work by preventing the flu virus from reproducing. To be effective you need to take them within 48 hours of the symptoms beginning. These flu drugs can decrease the duration of the flu by 1 to 2 days if used within this early time period. These antivirals are usually given for a period of about 5-7 days. It’s unclear whether these drugs can prevent complications of the flu. Tamiflu is approved for prevention and treatment in people 1 year old and older. Relenza is approved for treatment of people 7 years old and older and for prevention in people 5 years old and older. These medications must be prescribed by a health care professional.
Side effects: Side effects of antiviral drugs may include nervousness, poor concentration, nausea, and vomiting. Relenza is not recommended for people with a history of breathing problems, such as asthma, because it may cause a worsening of breathing problems. Discuss side effects with your doctor.
Self medication: Antibiotics are a no-no. Chances are that antibiotics will not help your flu symptoms. That’s because flu, colds, and most sore throats and bronchitis are caused by viruses. In addition, taking antibiotics when you have a virus may do more harm than good. Taking antibiotics when they are not needed increases your risk of getting an infection later that resists antibiotic treatment. Antibiotics only cure certain infections due to bacteria — and if taken carelessly, you may get more serious health problems than you bargained for.
Who is at risk?Those who are more at risk from becoming seriously ill with swine flu are people with:
- chronic (long-term) lung disease, including people who have had drug treatment for their asthma within the past three years,
- chronic heart disease,
- chronic kidney disease,
- chronic liver disease,
- chronic neurological disease (neurological disorders include motor neurone disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis),
- suppressed immune systems (whether caused by disease or treatment),
- pregnant women,
- people aged 65 or older, and
- young children under five.
How does it spread?The new swine flu virus is highly contagious, that is it spreads from person to person. The virus is spread through the droplets that come out of the nose or mouth when someone coughs or sneezes. If someone coughs or sneezes and they do not cover it, those droplets can spread about one metre (3ft). If you are very nearby you might breathe them in.
Or, if someone coughs or sneezes into their hand, those droplets and the virus within them are easily transferred to surfaces that the person touches, such as door handles, hand rails, telephones and keyboards. If you touch these surfaces and touch your face, the virus can enter your system, and you can become infected.
Can it be prevented?Influenza antiviral drugs also can be used to prevent influenza when they are given to a person who is not ill, but who has been or may be near a person with swine influenza. When used to prevent the flu, antiviral drugs are about 70% to 90% effective. When used for prevention, the number of days that they should be used will vary depending on a person’s particular situation.
Follow this general procedure to reduce the risk of catching or spreading the virus, you should:
- Cover your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, using a tissue
- Throw the tissue away quickly and carefully
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and water
- Clean hard surfaces (like door handles and remote controls) frequently with a normal cleaning product
- Keep away from others as much as possible. This is to keep from making others sick. Do not go to work or school while ill
- Stay home for at least 24 hours after fever is gone, except to seek medical care or for other necessities. (Fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
- Drink clear fluids (such as water, broth, sports drinks, electrolyte beverages for infants) to keep from being dehydrated
- Wear a face mask – if available and tolerable – when sharing common spaces with other household members to help prevent spreading the virus to others.
Will it help to wear a mask?Information on the effectiveness of face masks and respirators for decreasing the risk of influenza infection in community settings is extremely limited. So, it is difficult to assess their potential effectiveness in decreasing the risk of Swine Flu virus transmission in these settings. However, a well-fitted, FDA-approved mask together with other preventive measures MAY reduce the risk of contracting the flu. Those who are sick or caring for someone who is ill should consider using a mask or respirator if leaving the house becomes necessary.
What precautions should one take at home?Two things – soap and water can reduce the chance of infection by 30 per cent. All you need to do is keep washing your hand with soap and water frequently. Wash hands frequently with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand cleaner when soap and water are not available. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
Eat healthy: Proteins are essential to help your body maintain and build strength. Lean meat, poultry, fish, legumes, dairy, eggs, and nuts and seeds are good sources of protein.
The Food and Drug Administration recommends that adults eat 50 grams of protein per day. Pregnant and nursing women need more. By eating foods high in protein, we also get the benefit of other healing nutrients such as vitamins B6 and B12, both of which contribute to a healthy immune system.
Vitamin B6 is widely available in foods, including protein foods such as turkey and beans as well as potatoes, spinach, and enriched cereal grains. Proteins such as meats, milk, and fish also contain vitamin B12, a powerful immune booster.
Minerals such as selenium and zinc work to keep the immune system strong. These minerals are found in protein rich foods such as beans, nuts, meat, and poultry.
Exercise: Regular exercise may help prevent the flu. According to recent findings, when moderate exercise is repeated on a near daily basis, there is a cumulative immune-enhancing effect. That is, your strong immune system can fight flu better. When you exercise, your white blood cells — the blood cells that fight infections in the body — travel through your body more quickly, fighting bacteria and viruses (such as flu) more efficiently. To maintain good health, experts recommend at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity such as walking, swimming, biking, or running each day.
What precautions should one take at schools?
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- People who are sick with an influenza-like illness should stay home and keep away from others as much as possible, including avoiding travel, for at least 24 hours after fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Fever should be gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine). Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing
- Wash your hands often
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth