Flu Swine Spread

A highly virulent virus, such as H1N1 influenza (or “swine flu), is one that spreads relatively easily and causes noticeable symptoms, causing illness. Swine flu symptoms, which are similar to those of a cold, are potentially fatal in high-risk patients (such as those with weak immune systems).

But what is the swine flu, anyway? How does it spread so quickly? The swine flu is an influenza type A virus. It gains entry into the human body primarily via the respiratory system. In an infected person, the virus sheds from affected cells of the respiratory tract lining, including the lungs, airways, throat, and nasal passages. When a person sneezes or coughs, the virus is forcefully expelled into the air. If a healthy person breathes in the virus particles, then his or her respiratory system may soon become infected. The virus replicates quickly—in six hours, infected cells may start to shed viral copies.

Because of its ability to spread swiftly and exponentially, H1N1 has been declared a pandemic virus, with pockets of outbreaks seen globally. The major goal in pandemic crises is to limit the spread of the disease.

How the Swine Flu Virus is Spread

As previously mentioned, swine flu most commonly spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and a healthy person breathes in the virus particles from the air.

Less commonly, the virus is spread through direct contact. The skin provides a good physical barrier to most infections. However, if there is a cut in the skin, then the virus may gain entry into the body. Usually, infection via skin contact is indirect, such as transferring the virus from one’s hands to one’s eyes, nose, or mouth. The main take-home message is to wash your hands often and be careful of where your hands go!

Every human infection has an incubation period and symptomatic phases. For the swine flu, the exact incubation period is not known, but it’s likely between two to four days, and perhaps up to a week. Thus, a person may unknowingly transmit the disease while the symptoms have not appeared yet. General symptoms, such as fever, chills, and fatigue set in first before the respiratory symptoms of coughing and sneezing.

You cannot get the swine flu from eating pork products.

Limiting the Spread of Swine Flu

There are several ways that the spread of swine flu can be limited. One way is physical isolation, or quarantine, of affected individuals. However, this is quite difficult to do in our mobile society. Another method is to use proven prophylactic agents—these agents prevent the virus from attacking the body in the first place, and include masks, sanitary measures, and vaccinations.

Vaccinations are crucial in limiting the spread of influenza. Vaccines boost our immune system so that when we encounter the real virus, our bodies are prepared to fight it. This year, with the H1N1 virus as a new threat, health officials are encouraging people, especially high risk groups, to get the seasonal flu shot and swine flu shot.

Resources

Fox, M. (2009). Swine flu means worst flu season in 12 years in U.S. Retrieved November 29, 2009, from the Reuters Web site: http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSTRE5AB53220091112.  

Lauerman, J. (2009). Understanding swine flu’s world spread: Questions and answers. Retrieved December 2, 2009, from the Bloomberg Web site: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087