Everything you need to know about swine flu

Swine flu can affect the pigs as well as humans. This is a respiratory disease arising from an influenza A virus.

The influenza A subtype H1N1 strain is commonly the cause of human swine flu. It has similar genetic characteristics to the influenza virus subtype H1N1 which causes influenza in pigs.

Other key influenza subtypes known to occur in pigs include H1N2 and H3N2. This two variant subtypes have also had infections in humans.

In 2009, the variant H1N1 first became widespread among humans.

The H1N1 virus has been one of the common viruses that circulate every flu season ever since 2009. Today, many people have a strong immunity to the virus. As a result, experts are less involved in this form of swine flu now than they were in 2009.

Nevertheless, it is a problem if a virus attacks humans from another source. Scientists can not always predict how people will be affected by a new virus, or how it will change with time.

Symptoms

Preventing flu through washing of hands
A person can help prevent the spread of swine flu by washing their hands regularly with soap and water.

The symptoms of swine flu are similar to those of regular flu.

They include:

Respiratory failure and death can occur in extreme cases but this is uncommon. Most people have relatively mild symptoms.

However, there may be a higher risk for young children , the elderly, pregnant women and those with a compromised immune system.

Read more about flu here.

Vaccine

After the 2009 outbreak, scientists created a vaccine for protecting humans from H1N1. Protection from H1N1 has since become a part of regular seasonal flu shot.

Each year, experts try to predict which strains of the flu virus will likely circulate during the flu season, which usually peaks in winter. They schedule the vaccines according to the most likely forms of vaccine.

If experts expect that a certain strain of H1N1 could cause a pandemic, health authorities should recommend that the annual flu shot include a change to that component.

To those aged 6 months or older, the Centers to Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC) recommends an annual flu shot, with some unusual exceptions. A health care professional can advise on individual needs.

Treatment

The majority of people recover without significant medical attention from H1N1.

A doctor can however recommend an antiviral medication in some cases. These drugs can shorten symptom duration and decrease severity.

People could urgently need those drugs if they:

  • have severe symptoms or complications
  • are in the hospital
  • have a high risk of complications

Lifestyle remedies

Steps to treat swine flu symptoms and avoid further infection include:

  • using over-the-counter remedies
  • washing hands regularly with soap and water
  • getting plenty of sleep
  • exercising often
  • managing stress
  • drinking liquids
  • eating a balanced diet
  • avoiding being close to someone with flu symptoms
  • not touching surfaces that may have the virus

Someone suffering from flu will remain at home from work or school while symptoms last.

Causes

Doctors now find H1N1 a type of flu that can occur in humans and spread alongside seasonal flu viruses. When they are in close contact with someone who has H1N1 a person will catch it.

People who deal with swine can be at risk from animals developing new forms of flu or other illnesses. Such are called zoonotic diseases.

Risk factors

Some people have a higher risk of flu, or have serious symptoms or complications, including H1N1.

These individuals include:

  • people aged over 65 years
  • children under 5 years
  • people with conditions, such as diabetes, HIV, or cancer
  • pregnant women
  • people with chronic lung disease, such as asthma
  • people with chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
  • anyone with a compromised immune system
  • children with neurologic conditions

Diagnosis

If a doctor suspects a person may have H1N1 or some other type of flu, they may recommend a diagnostic test.

The rapid diagnostic test for influenza will help to identify swine flu. Nevertheless, this test may differ in effectiveness and may produce negative results when there is a certain strain of the influenza virus.

In specialist laboratories more detailed tests are possible.

Most people don’t need more than a simple flu test, because treatment will be the same, regardless of the test outcome.

Prevention

If an individual has flu, the following tips might help prevent further spread:

  • Limit your contact with other people.
  • Do not go to work or school while experiencing flu symptoms.
  • Cover the mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. If no tissue is handy, cover the mouth and nose with your hand or crooked arm.
  • Put your used tissues in a trash can.
  • Wash your hands and face regularly.
  • Keep all surfaces that you touch clean.
  • Follow all doctors’ instructions.

The annual flu shot can provide protection against various types of flu.

Those whose work or lifestyle introduces them to swine and other animals should:

  • follow all health and safety precautions when handling animals
  • ensure that swine have their relevant vaccinations
  • call a vet if an animal appears sick
  • avoid contact with pigs if they or other animals appear ill

Facts

Here are some more facts about swine flu:

Can I catch swine flu from pork?

Swine flu is a respiratory disease that is transmitted in the air and on surfaces via droplets. If you eat properly cooked pork it is not possible to catch.

Could there be another pandemic?

The H1N1 swine flu pandemic is much less likely now, because people have developed a certain degree of immunity. There was no evidence, prior to the 2009–2010 pandemic, that H1N1 had infected humans.

Nevertheless, under the right conditions, if any novel virus moves from animals to humans, a pandemic can develop.

Currently the World Health Organization (WHO) is monitoring the SARS-CoV-19 virus which causes COVID-19, the infection that first appeared in December 2019.

What does swine flu look like in pigs?

Symptoms in pigs include:

  • fever
  • depression
  • coughing (barking)
  • runny nose
  • red and runny eyes
  • breathing difficulty
  • low appetite

Swine flu is common in American pigs but there are vaccines available.Swine flu is common in pigs in the United States, but vaccines are available.

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