What is Swineflu ?

By Jennifer Sofia Catalano

So what is swineflu ? It is the popular name given to a new strain of influenza virus, officially named A(H1N1) by the World Health Organization (WHO). The virus has been named “swine flu” by the media and the general population, because it is believed that this virus strain resulted from the combination of different virus strains (from humans, birds and pigs), and the subsequent swapping of genetic material, whilst being hosted in pigs.

What is the difference between "swine flu" and normal flu?

Normal or seasonal flu is also an H1N1 virus, however this new strain of H1N1 has never been found in humans before and thus no immunity nor vaccine exist currently. The severity of this new strain of A type influenza is not yet known, but the onset, signs and symptoms appear to be identical to those of the more commonly known flu. Although, not scientifically proven as yet, there is information suggesting that this strain of influenza is more dangerous for young adults than it is for young children and the elderly. This is in full contrast to seasonal flu which is notably more dangerous for those with weaker immune systems. The WHO has yet to provide official confirmation on which part of the population is more at risk.

Can swine flu or A (H1N1) be cured?

As with seasonal flu, there is no cure for swine flu, however antiviral drugs (e.g. Tamiflu®) are effective in significantly reducing the severity and length of the outbreak in an ill person. This is also important for reducing the risk of more serious complications, e.g. pneumonia.

How can I protect myself from swine flu?

Transmission of swine flu is human to human, as it is for seasonal flu. The most effective prevention is to avoid contact with droplets of body liquids e.g. coughs and sneezes from infected people. This is reinforced by regular, thorough hand washing, and also by the use of tissues to collect droplets when coughing or sneezing. For people aged over 65, it is important that the vaccination for seasonal flu carry on as planned since this will provide important defence.

The UK government has launched a national campaign for prevention which can be viewed here

Can I get swine flu from pork meat?

There is no transmission of swine flu from pork meat to humans so consumption of pork need not change although as for any other disease, it is important that pork meat be consumed cooked and not raw.

How do I know if I have swine flu?

So what is swineflu and what are its symptoms? Swine flu signs and symptoms are fever, sore throat, breathlessness, muscle pain, sneezing and coughing. Since these are the same as those of seasonal flu, the only sure way, of identifying the swine flu strain, is via laboratory tests on the genetic component of samples, taken via swabs from the infected person.

If a person has influenza symptoms and has been in contact with somebody who has either returned from Mexico or has been in contact with other infected people, then it is recommended that the patient stay away from other people, taking care to use tissues when coughing and sneezing, washing hands regularly as well as making sure they rest and take plenty of fluids.

Where can I seek help ? Who should I contact?

what is swineflu - what is swineflu - what is swineflu

Depending on the country of residence there are different organisations providing help and guidance, however the first point of support if somebody is ill and they suspect they have swine flu, should be through the family doctor. It is advisable to contact the doctor via telephone rather than physically visiting a clinic so as to avoid transmission to others.

(Sources: The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) & The World Health Organization (WHO))

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