H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu)

Updated September 1, 2009

What is Influenza A H1N1 (swine flu)?

swine flu, H1N1 flu travel concern.‘Swine flu’ is a viral infection that typically causes illness in pigs. Health authorities have changed the name of the 2009 pandemic virus to influenza A H1N1, as pigs are not involved. This virus is a close relative of the common influenza virus. Prior to the 2009 pandemic, swine flu infection occurred in the U.S. only once or twice per year.

How serious is the 2009 H1N1 pandemic?

Epidemiologists, who study worldwide disease patterns, do not know yet how much damage the H1N1 pandemic will cause. Health experts around the world have been following the situation hour by hour since the first cases were reported in Mexico in April 2009. Health authorities became concerned as they have witnessed the disease spread throughout the world.

In June of this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified H1N1 as a pandemic which means a rapid worldwide spread of illness. Governments around the world have been preparing to protect its citizens. It is still not known how severe or mild this pandemic will be. Hopefully, the disease will be milder than expected, as occurred with the SARS virus in 2003.

To prepare for the pandemic, pharmaceutical companies are in high gear to manufacture a vaccine against H1N1. Manufacturers are hoping that the vaccine will be available this October. Safety testing of the vaccine is presently underway. If there is an H1N1 vaccine shortage, then the vaccine will be given to those who are at higher risk including pregnant women, caretakers of infants and health care workers.

Why is the virus attacking humans now?

Viruses, like all germs, are constantly under pressure to adapt to new environments. These changes, which occur by chance, become permanent if they offer an advantage to the virus. The current H1N1 flu adapted to the new environment. It now infects humans and spreads from person to person.

How is H1N1 transmitted?

The new swine flu strain is highly contagious. It is primarily spread through the air from coughs and sneezing from infected individuals, but it can also be picked up from contaminated surfaces, such as a doorknob. Although some governments have banned pork products from countries with flu activity, health experts state that you cannot contract H1N1 flu in this manner.

What are the symptoms?

H1N1 symptoms cannot be distinguished from typical influenza or other viral infections. Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, headache, chills, body aches and fatigue. These symptoms are termed non-specific by doctors meaning they could be caused by any of a variety of illnesses. While recovery is generally expected, the disease can become more serious. Fatalities have occurred.

How is H1N1 flu diagnosed?

Physicians suspect swine flu infection based on symptoms. Most of the worldwide H1N1 flu cases that we are reading in the newspapers have not been confirmed with a diagnostic test. Most of these individuals are assumed to be infected with H1N1 flu. There are special tests that can be performed to establish the diagnosis, but these are usually only done by health authorities who need to confirm the spread of the virus.

Is treatment available?

Prevention and Treatment of swine flu with vaccines and planning.The CDC advises that Tamiflu and Relenza medications are both effective treatments, particularly if administered early in the disease course.

Can swine flu be prevented?

To prepare for the pandemic, pharmaceutical companies are in high gear to manufacture a vaccine against H1N1. Manufacturers are hoping that the vaccine will be available this October. Safety testing of the vaccine is presently underway. If there is an H1N1 vaccine shortage, then the vaccine will be given to those who are at higher risk including pregnant women, caretakers of infants and health care workers.

The H1N1 vaccine does not prevent the typical seasonal flu, so the ‘flu shot’ will still be needed in addition to the H1N1 vaccine.

In addition to vaccination, common sense measures can reduce your risk of infection. Avoid contact with ill people who may have the flu. If you must be in close quarters with an infected individual, wash hands frequently with soap and water. Do not rely on hand sanitizers. Advise the sick that sneezing and coughing should be covered and followed immediately with a vigorous hand washing.

Be cautious if you are in contact with an individual who was potentially exposed to H1N1 flu. This person could be unknowingly infected and could transmit the virus to others.

Do international travelers need to be protected?

Currently, the WHO does not restrict leisure or business travel as health experts do not believe that this reduces infection rates. Nevertheless, travelers are urged to consult with their travel doctors before departure for the latest information on worldwide swine flu trends. The pandemic is a reminder to travelers of the importance of being up-to-date on all required and recommended vaccines.

 
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