Swine flu (also called swine influenza or H1N1) is a respiratory disease caused by influenza viruses which infect the respiratory tract of pigs and humans, causing a running nose, a barking cough, decreased appetite and dull behaviour. Swine flu produces similar symptoms in pigs as human flu produces in humans. Swine flu can last about one to two weeks in pigs which survive an attack. A number of people have developed the Swine flu infection when they are closely associated with pigs (for example, farmers and pork processors) and also, pig populations have occasionally been infected with the human flu infection. In most instances, the cross-species infections (swine virus to humans or human flu virus to pigs) have remained locally and have not caused national or worldwide infections in either pigs or humans. Unfortunately, this cross-species infection with influenza viruses has had the potential to change. Investigators decided that the 2009 so-called "Swine flu" strain, first seen in Mexico, should be termed novel H1N1 flu since it was mainly found infecting people and exhibited two main surface antigens, H1 (hemagglutinin type 1) and N1 (neuraminidase type1). The eight RNA strands from novel H1N1 flu have one strand derived from human flu strains, two from avian (bird) strains and five from pig / swine strains.
Swine flu is transmitted from person to person by inhalation or by ingestion of droplets containing the Swine flu virus from people sneezing or coughing - it is not transmitted by eating cooked pork products. The newest swine flu virus that has caused Swine Flu is influenza A H3N2v (commonly known as H3N2v) which began as an outbreak in 2011, where the "v" in the name means that the virus is a variant that normally infects only pigs, but has begun to infect humans also now. There have been small outbreaks of H1N1 since the pandemic began - a recent pandemic has broken out in India due to which, at least twenty people have died.
The symptoms of Swine flu are similar to most influenza infections: fever (100o F or greater), cough, a running nose, tiredness and / or a headache, with tiredness being reported in most infected people. Some patients may also develop a rash, a sore throat, body pain, headaches, chills, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea. In Mexico, many of the initial patients infected with Swine flu were young adults, which made some investigators believe that a strong immune response, as seen in young people, may cause some collateral tissue damage.The incubation period from exposure to the time the first symptoms are observable is about one to four days, with an average of two days. The symptoms last about one to two weeks but can last longer if the person has a severe infection.
Some patients develop severe respiratory symptoms and need respiratory support (like a ventilator to breathe for the patient). Patients can get pneumonia (bacterial secondary infection) if the viral infection persists and some can develop fits. Death often occurs from secondary bacterial infection of the lungs - appropriate antibiotics need to be used in these patients. The usual mortality (death) rate for typical influenza A is about 0.1%, while the 1918 "Spanish flu" epidemic had an estimated mortality rate ranging from 2%-20%. Swine flu (H1N1) in Mexico had about 160 deaths and about 2,500 confirmed cases, which would correspond to a mortality rate of about 6%, but these initial data were revised and the mortality rate worldwide was estimated to be much lower. Fortunately, the mortality rate of H1N1 remained low and similar to that of the conventional flu (average conventional flu mortality rates are about 36,000 per year - the projected Swine flu mortality rate was 90,000 per year in the U.S. as determined by the president's advisory committee, but it never approached that high number).
Fortunately, although H1N1 developed into a pandemic (worldwide) flu strain, the mortality rate in the U.S. and many other countries only approximated the usual numbers of flu deaths worldwide. Speculation about why the mortality rate remained much lower than predicted includes increased public awareness and action that produced an increase in hygiene (especially hand washing), a fairly rapid development of a new vaccine and patient self-isolation if symptoms developed.
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