The 2009 flu pandemic is a global outbreak of a new strain of influenza virus, officially named the “new H1N1”, first identified in April 2009, and commonly called “Swine flu.” It is thought to be a mutation of four known strains of the influenza A virus, subtype H1N1: one endemic in (normally infecting) humans, one endemic in birds, and two endemic in pigs (swine). Experts assume the virus “most likely” emerged from pigs in Asia, and was carried to North America by infected persons. There is also evidence that the new strain had been circulating among pigs on other continents for years before infecting humans. But transmission is human to human, with cooked pork products safe to eat as the virus cannot be transmitted by eating foods.
The outbreak began in Mexico, with evidence that Mexico was already in the midst of an epidemic for months before the outbreak was recognized. Soon after, their government closed down most of Mexico City’s public and private offices and facilities to help contain the spread. In early June, as the virus spread globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak to be a pandemic, but also noted that most illnesses were of “moderate severity.” The virus has since spread to the Southern Hemisphere which entered its winter flu season, and to many less developed countries with limited healthcare systems. Because the virus was spreading with “unprecedented speed”, and many clinics were overwhelmed testing and treating patients, WHO stopped requiring countries to report all cases, but is still monitoring unusually large outbreaks.
The virus typically spreads from coughs and sneezes or by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching the nose or mouth. Symptoms, which can last up to a week, are similar to those of seasonal flu, and may include fever, sneezes, sore throat, coughs, headache, and muscle or joint pains. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that most cases worldwide have been mild so far and most hospitalizations and deaths have been of persons that also had underlying conditions such as asthma, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, or a weakened immune system. Then again, Dr Anne Schuchat from CDC thinks, “this is a virus that’s capable of causing a spectrum of illness that includes severe complications and death”. “It’s very important we take this virus seriously”.As the virus spreads easily between people, through the air or surface contact, those who get the flu are recommended to stay home from school or work and avoid crowds to avoid spreading the infection further.
In an attempt to slow the spread of the illness, a number of countries, especially in Asia, have quarantined airline passengers with flu symptoms, while some are also pre-screening passengers. WHO does not expect to have a full vaccine before the end of 2009, and vaccines available sooner may be limited and given first to healthcare workers, pregnant women, and other higher risk groups. Two or three injections will be required for maximum immunity from both the swine flu and seasonal flu. There is also concern if the new virus mutates further, it could become more virulent and less susceptible to any new vaccine.
H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu)
Also called: Swine flu
Swine flu is an infection caused by a virus. It’s named for a virus that pigs can get. People do not normally get swine flu, but human infections can and do happen. The virus is contagious and can spread from human to human. Symptoms of swine flu in people are similar to the symptoms of regular human flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue.
There are antiviral medicines you can take to prevent or treat swine flu. There is no vaccine available right now to protect against swine flu. You can help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses like influenza by
1.Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
2.Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
3.Washing your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. You can also use alcohol-based hand cleaners.
4.Avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
5.Trying to avoid close contact with sick people.
6.Staying home from work or school if you are sick.