Swine flu, also known as 2009 H1N1 type A influenza, is a human disease. People get the disease from other people, not from pigs. The disease got stuck with the name swine flu because it originally jumped from pigs to humans. The current “swine flu” outbreak is different because it spreads from human to human.
Why Swine flu is dangerous
The virus is particularly dangerous because it is constantly evolving and most people don’t have any immunity either natural or acquired against the disease. The current strain known as the H1N1/09 swine flu which originated from swine but this virus is exclusive to humans. Also it’s very seasonal and keeps on changing depending on a lot of factors. The current seasonal return of swine flu cases in Maharashtra has been attributed to fluctuating temperatures.
The symptoms of swine flu are very similar to regular flu and include
- Cough and sneezing
- Weakness and fatigue
- Aching muscles and joints
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Diarrhoea or stomach upset
- Loss of appetite
Although a normal person’s immune system should be able to deal with swine flu some high risk groups include pregnant women, young children and people suffering from metabolic disorders like diabetics. People with COPD, cardiovascular conditions and any other disease which suppresses the immune system are particularly vulnerable.
The H1N1/09 virus is a variation of the swine flu virus which doesn’t spread from swine. The virus is extremely contagious. The virus enters the body through the respiratory tract. The tips for prevention include those that prevent contact with the virus, those that prevent its spread from the respiratory tract to blood.
Preventing contact with the virus:
- It can spread through coughing and sneezing so always cover your face while doing so. And make sure people around you in office or home also follow this.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth too often
- Maintain a high level of personal hygiene. Always wash your hands before or after eating and particularly after returning from a public place.
- Sometimes virus can spread through droplets that have remained on surfaces of things like laptops, phones so avoid using someone else’s items.
- Avoid public places, unhygienic conditions, etc.
- If your city/area is swine-flu endemic, always wear a standard swine flu mask in public places (the H-95 mask which is worn by nurses and doctors while collecting samples from swine flu victims). Normal surgical masks which sell like hot cakes during swine flu season might not give enough protection.
- If you feel sick and look like you are developing a cold or fever, stay at home and take enough rest. Rest has also been shown to increase ‘interferons’ which help our immunity to fight the virus better. Keeping away from others also prevents spread of the infection.
Preventing the virus from spreading from the upper respiratory tract:
- Gargling with warm water in which a little salt is added, several times a day acts like an irrigant for the virus and washes it off.
- Drinking lots of warm water and other warm fluids wash off the virus into the stomach where they cannot survive.
Currently, injectable H1N1 vaccines are available in the market – Influvac, Agrippal, Vaxigrip, Vaxiflu-S and Fluarix. There is an intranasal vaccine called Nasovac, produced by Pune’s Serum Institute last year but it is not in production now. The injectable forms cost around Rs.600-700 per dose. The doctors advise people to get a repeat vaccine dose every year.
Swine flu is diagnosed by identifying the particular antigens associated with the virus type. In general, this test is done in a specialized laboratory and is not done by many doctors’ offices or hospital laboratories. However, doctors’ offices are able to send specimens to specialized laboratories if necessary.
Prevention is always better than cure. However, if one is infected, there are certain antiviral drugs which help. Zanamivir (Relenza) and Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) have been successful in treating patients with Swine flu. One should take these only with a doctor’s prescription since indiscriminate use could lead to resistance to the virus.
The patient will need to hospitalized, isolated and put on a ventilator in severe cases.
People who have a pre-existing condition respiratory problem like COPD or lifestyle disorders like diabetes are usually worst hit by the disease and may suffer from pneumonia, respiratory failure, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, kidney failure and even death.