H1N1 “Swine” Flu

or the last week we have been assailed by media reports and daily front-page news articles warning against the recent Swine Flu outbreak. Originating in Mexico, the disease has reached Canada and the U.S. – and as far away as Spain, Israel, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. The number of cases is thought to be in the thousands, and although multiple deaths have been confirmed in Mexico, reports indicate that the disease may be even more wide-spread. In response and in an attempt to stem the spread, as of late April, 300 U.S. schools have closed and the Mexican government has temporarily shut down all non-essential [post-img]government and private functions.

Cases of the virus began in early March 2009 in Mexico. Late March saw instances in the United States. Samples were analyzed, compared with other cases, and a health emergency was declared on April 19th. By the 28th, reports from cities in over three continents confirmed cases of the new virus. On April 29th, the World Health Organization (WHO) raised its pandemic alert to Phase 5, signifying that a world pandemic is imminent and advising people to take preventative precautions.[tip-fact]Nevertheless, while the virus may be becoming increasingly widespread, there is not yet cause for panic. Studies of samples from North America have confirmed that the virus is another version of the flu. In fact, the term “Swine” flu is a misnomer as this specific form has not been found in pigs. Instead, its name comes from a combination of elements from four common types of Influenza – North American Avian Flu, Human Flu, North American Swine Flu, and Asian Swine Flu. The WHO has elected to rename it the H1N1 influenza.

As a relative of the common flu, therefore, symptoms are similar. Cases have included the usual complaints: nausea, vomiting, fever, sore throat, runny nose, diarrhea, and headaches.

Regardless of the virus’ history, it is clear now that contagion is on a human-to-human basis; contact with pigs is not necessary. It is unclear yet whether the virus is airborne, and transmission through touch seems to be the most common method of contraction.[b-quote]

Please note: you cannot contract Swine Flu from eating properly cooked pork products.

To rein in the rapid spread of the virus, the WHO is advising that standard personal health precautions be observed. This can be done simply. For the most part, infection can occur if you come into contact with a contaminated surface and later touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. Simple and frequent hand-washing, therefore, is an effective form of prevention. Wash your hands regularly, especially if you’ve been out in public. In the absence of a sink and soap, antibacterial, alcohol-based hand sanitizers can tide you over until you have the chance to lather up. Most importantly, however, don’t touch your face. Should you need to sneeze or cough, do so into a tissue, not your hand or even your handkerchief.

While it takes up to several months to manufacture and distribute an effective vaccine, the WHO has named a couple of over-the-counter flu antiviral treatments as interim countermeasures: Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir). Experiments testing the efficacy of several drugs on samples of the new virus have found both to be variously effective in preventing and treating this H1N1 Flu.

The wildfire spread of this new virus is certainly alarming. That there have been deaths associated with it makes it doubly so. That said, however, there’s no cause to panic. The outbreak, while sudden, is not uncontrollable. According to the WHO, reports indicate that of the total 541 confirmed cases, there have only been 13 confirmed deaths, 12 of which were in Mexico. Furthermore, of the suspected 4,400+ cases, there are only 168 suspected deaths, again all of which were in Mexico.

The situation is by no means dire, but it does require our attention. With continued vigilance and care, we can easily minimize our own risk, and do our part to fight this new virus.

For additional information, visit:
www.who.int/csr/disease/swineflu/en (WHO Swine Flu resources)
www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu (CDC Swine Flu resources)