“Swine flu” refers to influenza in pigs which was thought to be transferred from pigs to humans that stayed closer to pigs such as farmers and veterinarians. However, the theory changed in 2009 when a specific strain of flu known as H1N1 started to affect people, even those that were no way near to the pigs. This virus is a mix of viruses from the pigs, birds, and humans; and in the year 2009 this virus affected so many humans that WHO declared the flu from H1N1 virus as a global pandemic – implying a contagious disease affecting people all over the world or on multiple continents at the same time. However, the pandemic was also called off in 2010 and since then the H1NI virus is known as a common flu virus that affects humans.
The name originated because of the initial theory of it being contacted through proximity with pigs. However, swine flu today is different and spreads from human to human, like other flu’s – among those that have no contact with pigs. Scientists today are debating if the name should be varied and have assigned some variations to the name to distinguish it from its former association, but it is still commonly called the Swine flu or H1N1 influenza.
Causes of Swine Flu
There are only two prime causes of swine flu:
Contact with infected pigs: Contact or proximity with infected pigs can lead to the transmission of the virus from the pig to the human.
Contact with infected humans: Close contact with an infected person transmits the virus into another human.
Swine flu is highly contagious and can spread through saliva or mucus of the infected person, which means it can be communicated through – sneezing, coughing, contacting a germ-infected surface, etc.
That said, there are factors that put some people at higher risk of contracting the flu than others, these include:
- People more than 65 years of age
- Kids under 5 years of age
- Patients with chronic problems such as asthma, heart disease, diabetes, etc.
- Pregnant women
- People with a compromised immune system (such as HIV infected people)
- People with liver or kidney problems
- People suffering from blood disorders
- People with metabolic disorders
- Patients of neurological and neuromuscular disorders
These people must immediately get medical help on contacting symptoms of swine flu.
Symptoms of Swine Flu
The symptoms of swine flu are more or less similar to those of regular flu, such as:
- Chills and shivering
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Body ache
- Severe headache
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Watery, painful eyes
In addition, in some cases, the person might also experience nausea and vomiting. The symptoms need to be lab tested to confirm for swine flu. Symptoms of the flu develop 2-3 days post-exposure to the virus and can be dealt with similar medical treatment as normal flu. However, if the lab tests confirm swine flu, then the doctor can also advise targeted treatment to heal individual symptoms.
Treatment of Swine Flu
Most cases of swine flu do not require any medical treatment and can be easily treated at home with easy methods. However, one must consult a doctor in case the symptoms intensify, or he/she has a high-risk factor for complications arising out of swine flu.
In cases where the swine flu case is without any risk, simple methods such as below will work:
- Getting plenty of rest
- Drinking lots of fluids – water, juices, soups, etc.
- Over-the-counter medications for headache and sore throat
For people with mild symptoms, specific medications – including antiviral drugs such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) – can be taken.
Prevention of Swine Flu
Swine flu can easily be prevented provided simple steps are followed.
- Get a yearly flu vaccination
- Wash your hands frequently
- Sanitize your hands as often as you can
- Keep distance from public places
- Do not go out when ill, stay indoors
- Do not use public items or washrooms
- Avoid large gathering during the flu season
- Do not keep touching your nose, mouth, eyes, etc.
- Cover your mouth and nose while sneezing, coughing or yawning
- Wear a mask when out
Complications from Swine Flu
While swine flu is easily manageable, certain cases can get a bit complicated can cause problems, especially with people who are at more risk. Some complications that may arise are:
- Deterioration of health conditions such as heart problems, asthma, etc.
- Seizures and other neurological issues
- Respiratory failure
Vaccines for Swine Flu
India has an active vaccine to prevent cases of swine flu. The vaccination is available as an injection, as well as a nasal spray. Anyone above the age of 6 months of age is advised to get a shot.
Swine flu is contagious but can easily be avoided with proper precautions and easy treatment options. The virus is rarely fatal and a person can easily recover from the infection and lead a normal life.