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Swine flu – h1n1 influenza

Swine flu is influenza found in pigs that were reported previously as transferrable from pigs to humans that stayed closer to the pigs; but in 2009 a certain strain of the flu called H1N1 affected multiple humans including those that were no in contact with the pigs – hence diminishing the theory of the flu being transferred from pigs to humans only. The H1N1 virus is a mix of viruses from the pigs, birds, as well as humans and was earlier declared as global pandemic; however, as of today, the virus has subsided and is now commonly known as the H1N1 flu virus affecting the humans. Swine flu spreads from person-to-person through close and prolonged contact. 

What causes swine flu?

Swine flu is also known as H1NI influenza can be caused because of two reasons:

  • Transmission of the virus from the infected pig to the human through direct contact or close proximity
  • Transmission of the virus from an infected human to another via close contact.

Swine flu is highly contagious and spreads via the saliva of the person infected with the virus, implying that the virus can be easily communicated through:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Yawning without covering the mouth
  • Contacting a germ-infected surface

However, some people are at higher risk of contracting the flu, as compared to others. Some of these people include:

  • People of 65 or more years of age
  • Children under 5 years of age
  • People who have chronic health problems such as asthma, heart diseases, diabetes, and others
  • Pregnant women
  • People with a weak immune system
  • People with liver or kidney problems
  • Patients with blood problems 
  • People with a metabolic disorder
  • Patients of neurological and neuromuscular disorders

If any of these people display any symptoms of swine flu, immediate medical help should be given.

What are the symptoms of swine flu?

The symptoms of swine flu and regular flu are almost indistinguishable. Some of the symptoms of swine flu include:

  • Fever
  • Chills and shivering
  • Coughing
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Body ache
  • Severe headache
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Watery, painful eyes
  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Symptoms of swine flu tend to show after 2-3 days of exposure to the virus and can be treated with similar medical treatment as for normal flu. However, in cases where symptoms last long and the treatment is ineffective, the symptoms will be examined by a doctor and some tests will be done to assess the severity of the infection. However, if the lab tests confirm swine flu, then the doctor can also advise targeted treatment to heal individual symptoms.

How can swine flu be treated?

Generally, most cases of swine flu experience mild symptoms and do not need any medical care. Instead, mild swine flu infections without severe symptoms can easily be cured at home with certain methods, such as below:

  • 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. Though in cases where the infection is severe and symptoms intensify or there is a high risk for complications arising out of swine flu, one must consult a doctor immediately.

How can swine flu be prevented?

Swine flu is easily preventable, provided appropriate steps are undertaken to stop the spread of the virus. Some of the preventive steps in this regard include:

  • Yearly flu vaccination
  • Frequently washing of hands
  • Sanitising hands as often as you can
  • Staying away from public places
  • Staying indoors, when ill
  • Not using public items or washrooms
  • Avoiding huge gathering during the flu season
  • Avoiding touching my nose, mouth, eyes, etc.
  • Covering mouth and nose while sneezing, coughing or yawning
  • Wearing a mask when out

What complications can arise from swine flu?

Though swine flu is not a worrisome problem and often does not have any complications though in some cases, complications may arise leading to potential health problems.

Some complications that may arise are:

  • Deterioration of health conditions such as heart problems, asthma, etc.
  • Pneumonia
  • Seizures and other neurological issues
  • Respiratory failure

Vaccines for Swine Flu

In India, there is an active vaccination to prevent 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.

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