The Swine Flu – What Is It?

By , April 28, 2020 9:19 pm

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The flu, commonly referred to as the seasonal flu, is caused by a strain of the influenza virus. Just as research declared that maintaining a healthy diet and following through with good hygiene habits can help fight off the flu virus, the world was shocked by the emergence of a new strain of the flu virus. In April of 2009, the first case of the swine flu was diagnosed. The virus had scientists puzzled, they had never seen it before, and it was spreading from one person to the next at the same rate that the seasonal flu would. Since scientists and the public had never seen the virus, the world was in a panic.

The biggest concern in the scientific community, and in the public, was the possibility of the virus reaching the same levels as was suffered between the years of 1918 and 1919. Worldwide, more than 20 million people died as a result of the flu virus. The reason for this astronomical number of deaths is due to the lack of education on how the virus spread, and how building up the immune system could help fight the virus if they were to become infected.

Swine Flu
The swine flu, unlike the seasonal flu, was noticed by the World Health Organization (WHO), who declared on June 11, 2009 that a pandemic of the H1N1, or swine flu, was in the near future. (1)

Shortly after WHO announced the potential of an H1N1 pandemic, they mobilized resources in every community, put the pharmaceutical industry to work on finding a way to contain it, and brought businesses into the mix to help build funds to help low income areas. Because of the attention the swine flu drew from WHO, increasing fear and panic became a staple in every community. People canceled travel plans in masses, airlines and tourist locations suffered huge financial losses. The pharmaceutical industry was pushed to develop a vaccine, and thanks to new technology and the cooperation of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and WHO, they were able to produce a vaccine. Unfortunately, there was not time to test the vaccine or prove that was effective or safe.

The unbelievably rapid movement of the vaccine from creation to public use caused serious concern. Because of the risk posed by the H1N1 vaccine, pharmaceutical companies were provided a legal shield from any potential lawsuits that could result from possible unknown side effects that could be caused by the untested vaccine. This was marked as the first time in history that the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) openly condoned using an untested medication for public use, in a situation where the patients it would be used on were not terminally ill, on what is referred to as the fast track. (2)

The Evolution of Understanding with H1N1 Flu
Originally, the virus was addressed as “swine flu” because genetic examination showed the virus DNA to be strikingly similar to the flu virus that typically only affects pigs. However, a more in-depth study of the virus showed that it is very different from the virus that affects pigs in North America. This particular virus contained two genes that originated in a virus that typically circulates in pigs living in Asia and Europe, and it also contained bird genes and human genes.

The H1N1 strain of the flu virus is very contagious. It spread across every country in the world, including large cities in the United States. A great relief came when it was released by the CDC that people who did fall victim to the virus were recovering without medical treatment, much like is expected when the seasonal flu breaks out.

By understanding that this flu virus, spread in the same manner as the flu people were already accustomed to seeing, panic decreased dramatically. Just like the seasonal flu, the virus is spread through respiratory secretions, and through touching objects that an infected person has come into contact with, and had not been sanitized. (3)

Just like the seasonal flu, it is very unlikely for a person to become infected with the same strain more than once, as long as they do not have a compromised immune system. The body is able to create antibodies by fighting off the virus. This means that the next time the virus comes by, the body is able to prevent it from making the person sick again.
Unfortunately, this still means that a person can be infected with the flu virus more than once. Annually, it is possible for a person to contract the H1N1 flu virus, and later contract the seasonal flu virus, because fighting each requires different antibodies.

Just like with the seasonal flu, there are groups of people at risk for developing serious, potentially life threatening complications. This is typically because of a preexisting medical condition, or age. Children under the age of 5, adults over 65, women who are pregnant, and anyone with a chronic medical condition that affects the immune system could develop complications, or develop a secondary infection. (4)

The CDC’s studies have shown that people younger than 60, and young children do not have antibodies against the H1N1 flu until they get it. However, more than 1/3 of adults who are over 60 do have antibodies, which means this is not the first time the H1N1 flu has been wide spread. However, the medical records of those under the age of 25 show that this subset of people experience more severe symptoms than other groups of people. This data is very different from what has been collected during seasonal flu outbreaks.

Swine Flu Prevention
Preventing the spread of the swine flu involves the same precautions already taken in preventing the seasonal flu. Washing hands with soap frequently throughout the day, using alcohol based hand sanitizer when water is not available, avoiding touching the face with unwashed hands, avoiding sick people, and sanitizing surfaces regularly all work to prevent the swine flu.

When Is Medical Attention Needed?
There are times with the swine flu when medical attention may be necessary. If someone has trouble breathing, is breathing rapidly, their skin turns bluish, they show signs of dehydration, the develop a high fever, rash, confusion, persistent vomiting, or chest pain, emergency care should be sought immediately.

There is no way to predetermine whether a person will suffer from mild symptoms, or severe symptoms. However, one can lessen the risk of developing severe symptoms by eating healthy, and maintaining the immune system. If the virus is contracted, supportive care, and symptom management can reduce the duration of the illness.

Resources

(1) American College Health Association: H1N1 Flu
http://www.acha.org/ACHA/Resources/Topics/Flu.aspx

(2) MSNBC.com: Legal Immunity Set for Swine Flu Vaccine Makers
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31971355/ns/health-cold_and_flu/t/legal-immunity-set-swine-flu-vaccine-makers/

(3) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Flu Spreads
http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/spread.htm

(4) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: People at High Risk of Developing Flu-Related Complications
http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/highrisk.htm

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