Swine Flu Epidemic, Symptoms & Treatment

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All you needed to know about Swine Flu

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swine flu epidemic, symptoms and info

Update 11th June: WHO raises alert level to max 6

Swine Flu has now officially been declared as a pandemic, with WHO raising the level to max 6. For the first time in 40 years World Health Organisation has declared a pandemic. The flu is said to have infected across 17 countries and killed 100's.

Update 29th April: 150 dead in Mexico, WHO raises global alert to level 4

As swine flu crosses borders via flights, WHO has raised global alert to an unprecedented level 4. The first cases have now been confirmed in West Asia and Asia - Pacific regions on Tuesday, April 28th. The WHO has warned that the deadly swine flu virus first detected in Mexico can no longer be contained and a pandemic is not yet inevitable. . More than 150 people have reportedly died in Mexico till now and fifty cases, although non-fatal, have been reported in US till now. The swine flu has now spread to Israel too, while Canada, Spain and Britain have also confirmed cases.

Britain, France, Germany, Canada and US have issued travel alerts for Mexico, which relies on tourism as a main source of foreign currency. Hong Kong has said it has assigned a team to develop a test that will cut the time it takes to diagnose the swine flu strain from a few days to a few hours. Researchers in Hong Kong did play a big role in determining how to treat SARS.

Swine Flu has already killed 81(as on April 27th 2009) in Mexico, and is said to be spreading to US and Europe. WHO has marked it Level 3 out of a max 6, American health officers have declared a public health emergency and Asia has been put on high alert. Fears of a global flu epidemic has grown as new suspected cases appear across the world. The swine flu poses the biggest risk of a large-scale pandemic since avian flu surfaced in 1997, killing several hundred people.

So what exactly is this swine flu epidemic? How serious is it and is their some cure for it? Read on to find more.

What is Swine Flu?

Swine Flu was basically a respiratory illness found in pigs. It was caused by infection with swine influenza A virus and was till now known to occasionally affect humans. It was first discovered in humans in 1976 with the death of an army recruit in USA. However, never before had it taken such pandemic proportions. The swine influenza A (H1N1) virus which has infected humans in Mexico this time is an altogether new strain of the influenza virus. The new flu strain is a mixture of various swine viruses, bird flu and human viruses. This virus is resistant to the known antiviral medicines amantadine and rimatadine and is sensitive to Tamiflu and Relenza. Also, it is now being suggested that human-to-human transfer of the swine influenza A virus is happening.

Swine Flu Symptoms:

It must be kept in mind that swine flu can not be differentiated from other regular influenza just on the basis of symptoms. Also, the symptoms of the swine flu can vary according to the individuals infected by it. Generally, a flu is characterized by a sudden fever, muscle aches, sore throat and dry cough. Victims of the swine strain have suffered more vomiting and diarrhea. Some symptoms reported for swine influenza A virus infection include vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain or myalgia, headache, chills, fatigue and difficult or laboured breathing (dyspnea). Conjunctivitis is rare but has been reported. Swine Flu needs to be taken very seriously as pneumonia and even fatal respiratory failure can occur.

Swine Flu Treatment:

The treatment for Swine flu involves the use of antiviral medications, such as Tamiflu, as soon as the symptoms are detected. Tamiflu can help slow the spread of flu virus if taken within 48 hrs of exposure. If you have flu-like symptoms mentioned above and live in an area in which swine has been found, you need to contact your doctor immediately. Try to act fast and don't wait till the symptoms become chronic. As of now, although vaccines are available to prevent swine flu in pigs, the human vaccine is still awaited.

How Tamiflu works:

1. Flu virus enters cell, creates many copies of itself.
2. Neuraminidase enzyme on surface of virus helps it to break fre from the cell.
3. Tamiflu acts as neuraminidase inhibitor, prevents virus copies from breaking free from infected cell to spread.

Who is at risk?

Although no direct evidence that any of the cases stemmed from contact with pigs has come up, those individuals who had recent direct contact with pigs or even within 6 feet of contact with pigs and are now experiencing the symptoms, can be placed in the high risk zone. It is believed that swine flu virus can spread through airborne particles containing the virus which are released when an infected person coughs or sneezes. However, it is not possible to get the swine flu from eating pork.

How has the Flu epidemic spread recently:

Since 2005 to this recent outbreak, just 12 cases of swine flu affecting humans were identified in US, and none of them were fatal. In 2009, the first case was reported in San Diego, California during spring '2009. While all deaths so far have been reported in Mexico, the flu is spreading in the US, and possible infections cases have been found in Europe and New Zealand. In Mexico, people have been staying indoors to avoid contamination. New York has confirmed eight school children with the swine flu virus, although the cases are still very mild. Another 11 cases have been confirmed in California, Kansas and Texas. 10 students from New Zealand, who just returned from a school party in Mexico, have also shown signs of the flu.

What's being done:

Considering that the world is already reeling under the worst recession in decades, a flu epidemic will surely deal another major blow to the economy. Countries have come forward with specific measures to check the growth of the flu. American health officials on Sunday, 26th April, declared a public health emergency after 20 confirmed cases. Authorities across Asia, who have in recent years, dealt with the deadly viruses like H5N1 bird flu and SARS, have started to screen travelers at airports and border check points for any flu-like symptoms. The World Health Organization has declared the flu of a type never seen before and a public health emergency of international concern. The WHO says that the flu can become a pandemic or a global outbreak of serious disease. It must be remembered that a 1968 Hong Kong flu pandemic killed about 1 million people.

The new flu strains can spread quickly as no one has natural immunity to them yet and a vaccine might take months to develop. So, for now take precautions and if you have respiratory illness or you have been to Mexico recently, then it's probably the time you went to your doctor for a checkup.

Phases of WHO Pandemic Influenza Alert:

As WHO raises the swine flu alert to level 4, we look at what these alerts basically mean.

Pandemic Influenza

Activity

Meaning

Phase 1 Predominantly animal infections; few human infections No viruses circulating among animals causing infections in humans
Phase 2 Animal influenza virus causes infection in humans, and is considered potential pandemic threat
Phase 3 Influenza causes sporadic cases in people, but no significant human-to-human transmission
Phase 4 Sustained human-to-human transmission Verified human-to-human transmission able to cause community-level outbreaks. Significant increase in risk of pandemic
Phase 5 Widespread human infection
(Pandemic)
Human-to-human transmission in at least two countries in one WHO region. Strong signal pandemic imminent
Phase 6 Virus spreads to another country in different WHO region. Global pandemic under way
Post peak Possibility of recurring events Virus spreads to another country in different WHO region. Global pandemic under way
Post pandemic Disease activity at seasonal levels Virus spreads to another country in different WHO region. Global pandemic under way

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