A Lowdown on Swine Flu
The swine flu alert sweeping across the globe has health organisations doing their best to prevent a full-blown pandemic. The challenge for them is to prevent the virus from crossing borders and infecting other populations.
What is Swine Flu?
Swine flu is a form of influenza that is caused by strains of virus that usually infects pigs. Transmission of the swine flu virus from pigs to humans is not common, though there have been some reported cases earlier among people who work in close proximity with pigs. Since the mid-twentieth century, only about fifty such transmissions have been reported, the spread and disappearance being more localized.
But the current strain of the microbe is resilient and fast-moving, and what’s even more worrying is that it spreads from human-to-human contact, unlike the earlier reported cases. This means that none of us are immune to the possibility of infection.
Since symptoms mimic those for common flu, for a layperson, it is hard to tell them apart. Medically, the virus is diagnosed by: (1) Throat/ nasopharyngeal swab, and (2) blood samples for the antibodies.
If diagnosed early, swine flu is easy to treat, so there is no need for panic. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the WHO recommend the use of Tamiflu (oseltamivir) or Relenza (zanamivir) for treating swine flu. Besides antivirals, palliative care focused on controlling fevers and maintaining fluid balance goes a long way to ensure recovery. In fact, the majority of people infected with swine flu make a full recovery without requiring medical intervention or antiviral drugs.
What You Need to Know?
1. How do symptoms of swine flu differ from other types of flu?
Not much. The basic symptoms for swine flu are similar to the seasonal flu, which may include, fever, sore throat, cough, stuffy nose, chills, headache and body aches, and fatigue, and sometimes, vomiting and diarrhoea.
2. Is there medication or a vaccine for swine flu?
The vaccine is being developed and will not be available for the next several months. Medications are available not only to treat the infection but also to prevent the disease. But these medications need to be used under a physician’s guidance.
What You Need to Know?
3. How can human infections with swine influenza be diagnosed?
To diagnose swine influenza a infection, a respiratory specimen would need to be collected within the first 4 to 5 days of illness (when an infected person is most likely to be shedding virus). However, some persons, especially children, may shed virus for 7 days or longer.
4. Is it safe to travel?
As of now there are no travel restrictions. Limiting travel would have little effect on stopping the virus from spreading, but would be highly disruptive to the global community. The focus now is on minimizing the impact of the virus.
Swine flu is a form of influenza that is caused by strains of virus that usually infects pigs. Transmission of the swine flu virus from pigs to humans is not common, though there have been some reported cases earlier among people who work in close proximity with pigs.
Since the mid-twentieth century, only about fifty such transmissions have been reported, the spread and disappearance being more localized.
- Dr. Lavanya Nutankalva