All About Swine Flu – H1N1

1. What is swine flu (Novel H1N1)?

Swine flu is a viral disease caused by a new type of influenza virus (Novel H1N1) that has never circulated before in humans. The new virus was first detected in the US in April 2009. The virus was initially called swine flu virus because it is genetically very similar to viruses that normally cause flu in swine (animals such pigs, boars, hogs).

2. What are the symptoms of swine flu?

The symptoms of swine flu are similar to the symptoms of seasonal flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Diarrhea and vomiting have also been reported in a number of people. Also, like seasonal flu, swine flu can be severe and even fatal in some cases.

3. If swine flu is similar to seasonal flu, why are we so worried?

Seasonal flu occurs every year but many people have some immunity against it which protects them from getting sick. In additions, vaccines against seasonal flu are available in many countries. The swine flu virus on the other hand is an entirely new agent against which most of us have little or no immunity. As a result, this virus can spread very fast and affect a much larger number of people than seasonal flu. We also do not have a vaccine against swine flu.

4. Is swine flu contagious?

Yes, the virus is contagious and is spreading from human to human. However, at this time, we do not known how easily the virus spreads between people. It appears to be as contagious as seasonal influenza and is spreading fast particularly among young people (from ages 10 to 45).

5. How does swine flu virus spread?

Swine flu spreads from person-to-person in much the same way as seasonal flu. You can get infected if you inhale droplets expelled by an infected person during coughing or sneezing. Since the expelled droplets can also contaminate hands and other surfaces, you may also become infected by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your mouth or nose. So far the swine flu virus has not been seen to spread to humans from pigs or other animals.

6. Can I get swine flu from eating or preparing pork?

No, swine flu virus does not spread through food. It is safe to eat properly handled and cooked pork. The flu virus is killed by cooking temperatures of 160°F/70°C, which is commonly used for cooking meat.

7. How severe is the illness caused by swine flu?

The severity of illness ranges from very mild symptoms to severe illnesses that can result in death. A large proportion of people who get infected with the virus experience mild disease and recover without hospitalization or antiviral treatment. Care at home – resting, drinking plenty of fluids and using a pain reliever is sufficient in most cases. (Note: A non-aspirin pain reliever is recommended in children and young adults because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome.)

8. Who is at risk of severe swine flu illness?

Pregnant women, people with previously recognized medical conditions that increase the risk of flu-related complications, e.g. asthma, diabetes, heart disease and those with weak immune systems are more likely to experience severe illness caused by flu infection. A remarkable difference compared to seasonal flu is that swine flu has so far caused few cases and no deaths in people older than 64 years of age.

9. How can I protect myself against swine flu?

As of now a vaccine against swine flu is not available. However, you can protect yourself from getting infected by avoiding close contact (minimum distance of about 1 meter if possible) with people who have flu-like symptoms. In addition, the following measures can protect you:

Avoid crowded places/ reduce the time spent in crowded places

Improve ventilation in your living space by opening windows

Avoid touching your mouth and nose

Clean hands thoroughly with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand rub several times in a day (especially if you touch potentially contaminated surfaces)

Maintain general good heath, get adequate sleep, eat nutritious food, and stay physically active

10. How can I figure out if my flu could be swine flu?

It is not possible to differentiate seasonal flu from flu without a medical and lab examination. If you are living in a flu affected area and have symptoms similar to seasonal flu such as fever, cough, headache, body aches, sore throat and runny nose you should take all measures recommended for a flu affected person. Only your doctor or medical center can make a confirmed diagnosis of swine flu.

11. What should I do to prevent transmitting flu to those around me?

If you have symptoms suggestive of flu:

Stay at home -this means not going to office, school, markets, or any social gatherings

Inform family and friends about your illness and try to avoid contact with other people

Take rest and drink plenty of fluids

Cover your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing

If you are using tissues, make sure you dispose of them carefully. Clean your hands immediately after with soap and water or cleanse them with an alcohol-based hand rub.

If you do not have a tissue close by when you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth as much as possible with the crook of your elbow.

Use a mask when you are around others

If possible, contact a medical professional before traveling to a health facility to discuss whether a medical examination is necessary

12. Should I take an antiviral to prevent or treat swine flu?

No, you should not take antiviral medications unless prescribed by your healthcare provider. Also avoid buying antiviral medicines on the internet.

13. Should I stop breastfeeding if I think I might have swine flu?

No, you should continue breastfeeding unless your doctor advises you to stop. Continuing breastfeeding is likely to protect your baby from getting infected by passing on maternal antibodies and boosting the immune system.

14. Is it OK to go to work/ school if I have flu?

No, it is recommended that you stay at home if you have symptoms of flu. This is important to protect your friends and colleagues from becoming ill.

15. Can I travel if I have flu?

If you have symptoms of flu, you should not travel. If you are unwell but cannot avoid travelling or contact with others, cover your mouth and nose. It is advisable to use a mask in such a situation. If you are returning from a flu affected country and develop flu symptoms, you should immediately contact your healthcare provider.

16. Should I avoid traveling to flu affected countries?

Some health ministries have advised the public to avoid unnecessary travel to flu affected countries. However, the WHO is not recommending travel restrictions as international travel for work or leisure will greatly disrupt people’s plans and schedules with little impact on the spread of the virus.

17. WHO has declared a swine flu pandemic. What does that mean?

A pandemic is an infectious disease that is spreading in a large region or even worldwide. If a disease is declared a pandemic, it indicates that it is spreading very fast across the world. At the time when the WHO declared a swine flu pandemic, the flu virus had already been reported from 70 countries and cases were occurring in multiple parts of the world.

18. What is the treatment of swine flu?

This flu is responding to two antiviral drugs called oseltamivir or zanamivir. These are prescription medicines that stop the flu virus from reproducing in your body. Antiviral drugs can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious flu complications.

19. How long does influenza virus remain alive on surfaces such as tables and doorknobs?

Studies have shown that influenza virus can survive on environmental surfaces and can infect a person for up to 2-8 hours after being deposited on the surface.

20. What is the incubation period of swine influenza?

Incubation period is the time interval between the entry of infection in your body to onset of symptoms. The incubation period of flu is unknown but it could range from 1 to 7 days, and more likely 1 to 4 days.