What is Swine Flu (H1N1)?
Influenza-A (H1N1) (earlier know as swine flu) is a new influenza virus causing illness in people. First detected in Mexico in April, 2009, it has spread to many countries in the World. Swine flu is basically a misnomer. This was originally referred to as “swine flu” because laboratory testing showed that many of the genes in this new virus were very similar to those found in pigs in North America. Further on, it has been found that this new virus has gene segments from the swine, avian and human flu virus genes. The scientists calls this a “quadruple reassortant” virus and hence this new (novel) virus is christened “influenza-A (H1N1) virus”.
How do people become infected with influenza-A (H1N1)?
The new influenza A (H1N1) virus spreads from person-to-person, in the same way that seasonal influenza viruses spread. The main form of transmission is through the coughs or sneezes of an infected person. Infected droplets are released into the air and breathed in by others. However, these droplets do not remain in the air long and generally only affect people within two metres.
It is also possible to get influenza by touching contaminated surfaces, and then touching your nose, mouth or eyes. Water chlorination also makes it very unlikely that people will get this virus from drinking water or swimming in chlorinated pools.
How infectious is it?
Because this virus is new, people have no immunity to it so it will spread more quickly and widely than the seasonal flu. The pandemic situation could mean lots of people become sick at the same time and this could have a big impact on our day-to-day lives, and place considerable pressure on the health services.
Infected person may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to seven or more days after becoming sick.
What are the signs and symptoms of influenza-A (H1N1) in people?
The symptoms of swine flu in people are similar to the symptoms of regular seasonal flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people also experience diarrhoea and vomiting. Also, like seasonal flu:
- the worst symptoms usually last about five days, but coughing can last up to two to three weeks.
- some very young children, people with some long-term medical conditions, pregnant women, and older people, can get very sick.
How to keep away from getting the flu?
Currently available seasonal influenza vaccine does not protect against H1N1 flu. There are everyday actions that can help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses like influenza:
- Wash and dry your hands frequently:Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds and dry them for 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand rub. Wash your hands before preparing food and eating or smoking; after coughing, sneezing, wiping children’s noses, visiting the toilet or changing nappies.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes: Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and put your used tissue in a bin (if you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve – not your hands). Remember to wash your hands afterwards. Avoid touching your nose, mouth or eyes. Germs spread that way.
- Stay away from other people if you or they are sick: If you become unwell, stay away from other people. Try to stay a metre away from sick people to reduce the spread of germs. Reduce time spent in crowded settings.
- Contamination and cleaning: Regularly clean flat surfaces such as bathroom sinks, bedside cabinets, desks and table tops where germs can live for up to 48 hours. Wipe them down with a household disinfectant.
- If you’ve got flu symptoms: Stay at home until essentially well, that is not sneezing and coughing as this is how the virus spreads. This is usually around three to four days after symptoms start, but coughing may last up to two or three weeks.
- Get medical advice if you have a serious condition: This includes if you have respiratory disease, heart disease, liver disease, blood disorders and neurological conditions or immunosuppression (including immunosuppression caused by medications or by HIV).
Try to stay in good general health. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food.
Are there medicines to treat this flu?
Yes. The new influenza A (H1N1) virus can be treated with antiviral drugs, such as Oseltamivir. Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines (pills, liquid or inhaler) that fight against influenza by keeping viruses from reproducing in your body. They make your illness milder and make you feel better, faster. They may also help stop serious influenza complications. For treatment, antiviral drugs work best if started soon after getting sick (within 2 days of symptoms).
The Government has necessary medicines in sufficient quantity available. The Government has in the designated hospitals stored medicines if required. It is strongly advisable not to take medicines of your own, as it will lower your immunity.
What surfaces are most likely to be sources of contamination?
Germs can be spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth. Droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person move through the air.
How long can viruses live outside the body?
Studies have shown that influenza virus can survive on environmental surfaces and can infect a person for 2 to 8 hours after being deposited on the surface. Frequent hand washing will help you reduce the chance of getting contamination from these common surfaces.
What kills influenza virus?
Influenza virus is destroyed by heat (167-212°F [75-100°C]). In addition, several chemical germicides, including chlorine, hydrogen peroxide, detergents (soap), iodophors (iodine-based antiseptics), and alcohols are effective against human influenza viruses if used in proper concentration for a sufficient length of time. For example, wipes or gels with alcohol in them can be used to clean hands. The gels should be rubbed into hands until they are dry.
What should I do if I get sick?
If you live in areas where influenza A H1N1 cases have been identified and become ill with influenza like symptoms e.g. fever, body aches, runny nose, sore throat, nausea, or vomiting or diarrhea, you may contact their health care provider, particularly if you are worried about your symptoms.
Your health care provider will determine whether influenza testing or treatment is needed. If you are sick, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people as much as possible to keep from spreading your illness to others. If you become ill and experience any of the following warning signs, seek emergency medical care.
Can swine flu be fatal?
Just like the regular flu, swine flu worsens pre-existing medical conditions in people. So people with already compromised immune systems can die after contracting it.
What are the precautions I should take while removing the mask?
- Remove the mask by holding the strings that support the mask at your ears.
- Do not touch the surface of the mask (not even the outer surface) as it might have the virus.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after removing the mask.
Is it safe to take pork items?
Pigs have nothing to do with this disease. Pork products are absolutely safe if properly cooked. There is no need to cull pigs. Do not panic if some pigs die in the community due to natural disease.