What is Swine Flu?
Swine influenza is a common respiratory disease in pigs, most often occurring during the fall and winter; however, most types of swine flu do not kill many pigs or infect humans.
Influenza viruses change constantly. Pigs can be infected by swine, avian, or human flu viruses. When different types of viruses infect pigs, the viruses can trade genes to create new viruses that are a mix of swine, avian, or human influenza viruses. Rarely, these viruses jump to humans, causing outbreaks of a new type of flu for which no vaccine is yet available.
Beginning in mid-March, Mexican health officials noted a steady rise in Influenza-Like Illness (ILI). The number of cases as of April 23 exceeded 854, with 59 deaths. Laboratory tests conducted in Canada confirmed that 18 of these were Swine Influenza A/H1N1, with 12 cases being genetically identical to the 7 confirmed cases in California. Two cases have been confirmed in Texas and two more in Kansas, as of April 25, 2009.
I've Had the Flu, and It's Awful - But How Do I Know if it's an Emergency?
According to the CDC, the emergency warning signs for children that indicate a need for urgent medical attention include:
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Bluish skin color
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Not waking up or not interacting
- Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
- Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
- Fever with a rash
In adults, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe or persistent vomiting
Why is this Flu Outbreak Worrying Health Officials?
There are cases of human illness associated with an animal influenza virus.
The majority of these cases have occurred in otherwise healthy young adults. Infants and the elderly, the age groups normally hit hardest by influenza, have not been as heavily affected.
The geographical spread of multiple community outbreaks is of concern.
The Swine Influenza A/H1N1 viruses characterized in this outbreak have not been previously detected in pigs or humans, and appear to be fairly resistant to antiviral drugs. They show some sensitivity to oseltamivir and zanamivir, but not to amantadine or rimantadine.
What Can I Do to Stay Healthy?
Stay away from pigs and sick people.
Try not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth - this is how many germs are spread.
Wash your hands frequently; use soap and water or alcohol-based hand cleaners.
Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Be sure to throw the tissue out in the trash can or flush it down the toilet!
If you get sick with the flu or flu-like symptoms, do everyone a favor and stay home from work or school. Government officials in Mexico have closed schools and other public facilities to help prevent further spread of this disease, and World Health Organization officials have declared this "a public health emergency of international concern," so don't be a martyr and drag yourself to work where you might spread it to all your coworkers.
Call your doctor, but avoid crowded waiting rooms if possible and consider wearing a face mask to the doctor's office (or hospital) if you must go, in order to prevent the spread of germs to or from you.
Antiviral drugs work best if you start taking them within two days of becoming sick, so if you think you have the flu, don't delay - call your doctor.
Where Can I Learn More?
For more information, refer to the following sites: