Flu Swine

The H1N1 influenza (also known as “swine flu”) virus is making headlines all around the world. Before the 2009 flu season even started, many people feared that this was the one virus that could reach pandemic status.

The swine flu outbreak initially began in Mexico, and swine flu news reports described the high mortality rates of those who were infected. Global ravel to and from Mexico was restricted. Word got out that this was a new pandemic strain of influenza, similar to the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 that allegedly killed 50 to 100 million people worldwide. Soon, governments of other countries started to report numerous cases of H1N1 flu infection. Currently, however, we are in the midst of a new flu season, and the extent of H1N1 flu infection is less than originally thought. Should we continue to fear the H1N1 virus?

The Swine Flu H1N1 Virus)

News about the swine flu continues to roll in. On June 11, 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the H1N1 flu outbreak a “pandemic,” meaning that it was spreading throughout human populations across several continents. It is a contagious virus, spreading between humans via respiratory droplets found in uncovered coughs and sneezes.

Scientific analysis of the virus showed that this influenza type A strain contained genes from several different flu viruses. The genes included those from:

  • North American swine influenza
  • North American avian influenza
  • Human influenza
  • Two Eurasian swine influenza viruses.

The genetic components of swine flu are fairly complex, and health officials initially thought that the virus could easily mutate and become even more deadly. However, it has transpired that most people who become infected with the H1N1 virus develop mild to moderate symptoms, similar to seasonal flu, which pass in a matter of days.

Swine Flu Symptoms

The symptoms of H1N1 infection are similar to normal seasonal flu symptoms. Symptoms of the swine flu include:

  • Chills
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue
  • Fevers
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Sore throat.

Some swine flu victims have also reported nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and central nervous system problems.

Additionally, some patients experience severe symptoms of the swine flu that may compromise the airways and lead to respiratory failure. In general, those that have severe symptoms are of a higher risk group that includes:

  • Asthmatics
  • Diabetics
  • Immunocompromised people, such as those with AIDs
  • Patients with heart disease
  • Pregnant women.

Death can occur from an overwhelming infection or from complications from the flu. According to the CDC, as of November 25, 2009, there were 8,452 confirmed worldwide deaths from the H1N1 virus. Seasonal flu results in 250,000 to 500,000 deaths a year. Thus, so far, H1N1 mortality rates are below the annual death rate of normal influenza type A strains.

Diagnosing swine flu is primarily based upon clinical suspicion, especially when the timing of symptoms, location of outbreaks, and sick contacts are taken into account. For definitive diagnosis, a respiratory tract swab can be sent to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for laboratory analysis. This test is usually reserved for those in high-risk groups to help guide further treatment.

Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention staff. (2009). CDC/H1N1 flu: H1N1 flu and you. Retrieved November 30, 2009, from the CDC Web site: http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/qa.htm.

Taubenberger, J., and D. Morens. (2005). 1918 Influenza pandemic.Retrieved November 30, 2009, from the CDC Web site: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/eid/vol12no01/05-0979.htm.

WebMD staff. (2009). Cold and flu guide: Flu complications. Retrieved November 30, 2009, from the WebMD Web site: http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/flu-guide/flu-complications.