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Swine Flu is a Very Real Threat to the World – Only Urgent Measures Can Help Contain It
What is swine flu?
Swine flu is a highly contagious acute respiratory disease found in pigs. It is caused by one of the swine influenza A viruses. Swine flu causes high morbidity and low mortality of about 1-4%. Among the pigs themselves, the virus is spread by aerosols, by direct and indirect contact, and by asymptomatic carrier pigs. Although pigs are subject to regular infections, incidences increase during the fall and winter months in temperate zones. Therefore, pigs are routinely vaccinated against swine flu in many countries.
How is swine flu diagnosed?
When a person is under bad weather, many symptoms can be present. However, swine flu symptoms are very similar to normal cold and flu symptoms and can include:
- Loss of appetite
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
Fatigue, loss of appetite and diarrhea can be dangerous. If the symptoms persist, it becomes imperative to consult a doctor. In order to diagnose your illness, the doctor may prescribe:
- Chest x-rays
- Respiratory specimen
- Blood test
To diagnose swine influenza A infection, a respiratory sample should be collected within the first 4-5 days of illness onset, as this is when the infected person is most likely to excrete the viruses; however, children in particular can shed the virus for 7 days or more. In order to identify the swine influenza A virus, the sample must be sent to the CDC for laboratory analysis.
Only RT-PCR or viral culture has the potential to confirm infection with swine influenza A (H1N1) virus. The performance of rapid antigen tests and immunofluorescence tests for the detection of influenza A (H1N1) virus of swine origin is unknown. Persons suspected of carrying the influenza A (H1N1) virus of swine origin and who test positive using one of these tests must then undergo confirmatory RT-PCR or viral culture test to confirm the presence of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus. A rapid antigen test or a negative immunofluorescence test cannot be used to exclude infection with the influenza A (H1N1) virus of swine origin.
The results of this test from a nasopharyngeal or nasal swab, along with other information, will most likely help your doctor take better care of you. Knowing the test results will help prevent spreading the virus to others.
The swine flu test kit is a sensitive test to detect the swine flu virus; however, the FDA has not cleared or approved this test. But it has been agreed by the FDA that this test can be used under an emergency use authorization.
How is swine flu different from avian flu?
The swine flu and avian flu viruses have no twin similarity but are nevertheless quite similar. The virus that causes bird flu in humans first mutated from a virus that birds had so that it could then be transmitted to humans; once established, it now shifts from human-to-human contact. This is the case with swine flu. It started in pigs as a virus, but then quickly mutated to spread to humans. Viruses have the ability to replicate rapidly; these viruses are able to mutate very quickly, creating new strains which then multiply in other susceptible areas and hosts.
So far, bird flu has struggled to infect humans unless they have been intensely exposed to birds. This is because the virus has not mutated in a way that makes it transmissible from one human being to another. However, the swine flu virus has genetic origins in both pigs and birds. The biggest difference here is that the swine flu virus has mutated to such an extent that it can easily be transmitted through human-to-human contact.
What drugs are available to treat swine flu and bird flu?
Antiviral therapy is normally the first line of treatment for confirmed, probable, or suspected cases of swine-derived influenza A (H1N1) virus infection, prioritizing the treatment of hospitalized patients and high-risk patients of complications.
Antiviral drugs are prescription medications (tablets, liquid, or inhaler) that actively work against influenza viruses, including the swine flu virus. Antiviral drugs are usually used to treat swine flu or to prevent infection with swine flu viruses. These medications are prescribed by a healthcare professional.
To date, four flu antiviral drugs are approved in the United States. They are:
- Oseltamivir (Tamiflu)
- Zanamivir (Relenza)
- Rimantadine (Flumadine)
Laboratory tests performed on swine influenza A (H1N1) viruses have so far indicated that the viruses are sensitive (susceptible) to oseltamivir and zanamivir. Antiviral drugs can lessen the illness and prevent serious complications from the flu. However, these antiviral drugs work best when started within two days of illness onset.
Antiviral drugs can also be used preventively to protect someone who has been or might be around someone who has swine flu. Antiviral drugs are about 70% to 90% effective in preventing the flu.
Recommended antiviral doses for the treatment of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection in adults or children 1 year of age or older are the same as those recommended for seasonal influenza. The use of oseltamivir in children less than 1 year old was recently approved by the US FDA under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA).
Additionally, there are vaccines available that can be given to pigs to prevent the spread of swine flu. However, there is still no vaccine to protect humans from swine flu. It is thought that the seasonal flu vaccine will likely help provide partial protection against the H3N2 swine virus, but not against the H1N1 swine virus.
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