The current Swine Flu fears are both justified and overrated.
The fears are justified because of the 7-8% death rate in Mexico of a contagious disease, for which we currently have no direct vaccine.
The fears are overrated because that death rate seems only to apply to Mexico, and the virus itself does not seem to be replicating uncontrollably throughout the world.
Currently, the status of the disease warrants Mexican quarantine, worldwide concern, but not yet worldwide panic.
Hopefully, this document will allay some of your fears and answer some of your questions about Swine Flu.
The Swine Flu FAQs
What is Swine Flu?
What is the history of Swine Flu?
What are the symptoms of Swine Flu?
How is Swine Flu different from human flu?
How do I know if I have Swine Flu?
How can I treat the Swine Flu?
What medications are there to treat Swine Flu?
Do these medicines prevent me from catching Swine Flu?
How long are infected people contagious?
Do adults have the same symptoms as children?
Are there currently any vaccinations for Swine Flu?
Does the flu vaccine I took in the 1970s scare protect me now?
Will this year’s flu shot offer me any additional protection?
Is Swine Flu related to bird (avian) flu?
Can I catch the Swine Flu from pigs?
Can I catch the Swine Flu from consuming pork products?
How does the Swine Flu jump from pigs to humans?
Do viruses often transmit from animals to humans?
Can Swine Flu kill me?
Why are larger numbers of people dying in Mexico?
Could the Swine Flu have been manufactured by bioterrorists?
Why should we be concerned with the Swine Flu?
Should we be freaking out?
Will the Swine Flu scare go away like the killer Bird Flu scare?
Should I cancel my vacation to Mexico?
Should I wear a mask if I am on a plane?
How long does the Swine Flu live on inanimate objects?
What other protective precautions can I take?
What is the best way to wash my hands?
How can I get updated Swine Flu information?
- What is Swine Flu?
Swine Influenza, or Swine Flu, is a highly contagious respiratory disease that originated with pigs and is caused by one of many strains of the Influenza A virus. Most commonly, Swine Flu is of the H1N1 Influenza subtype, although they can sometimes come from H1N2, H3N1, and H3N2.
For typical Swine Flu, the bovine death rate is about 1-4%, although the human death rate is far less.
Swine Flu is spread among pigs by direct and indirect contact, however, in many parts of the world pigs are vaccinated against Swine Flu. Seemingly the virus was passed on to a young boy, 5-year-old Edgar Hernandez of Veracruz, Mexico, by indirect contact.
The scary part is that when the flu spreads person to person, instead of from animals to humans, it can continue to mutate, making it harder to treat or fight because people have no natural immunity.
- What is the history of Swine Flu?
Researchers first isolated the Swine Flu virus in a pig back in 1930.
More than 200 soldiers at Fort Dix, New Jersey, contracted the Swine Flu in 1976.
From 1976 until 2005, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) received roughly one report every year or two of humans with Swine Flu.
From December 2005 until January 2009, there were 12 cases of Swine Flu reported.
- What are the symptoms of Swine Flu?
- How is Swine Flu different from the human flu?
Along with the respiratory symptoms that come with typical seasonal human flu, Swine Flu is more likely to include diarrhea and vomiting.
- How do I know if I have Swine Flu?
Neither you nor your doctor would be able to tell the difference right away. Your doctor would have to submit a respiratory specimen within the first four to five days to a CDC lab.
If you think you have the flu you should call your doctor immediately.
- How can I treat the Swine Flu?
Anti-viral drugs can be called in by your doctor; you would probably end up taking either Tamiflu or Relenza.
These medicines should work unless you have:
- Abnormal illness with flu-like symptoms
- Chronic illness
- Suppressed immune system
- A predisposition to illness due to old age
- A very young child under the age of 2
Again, it is best not to report to a hospital, as you could risk spreading the disease. Call your doctor and do what he tells you.
- What medications are there to treat Swine Flu?
Tamiflu or Relenza have both shown to be effective against the recently reported strains of Swine Flu. These are two of the four anti-viral drugs that are commonly used to treat the various strains of flu.
Over the counter (OTC) medications that treat flu-like symptoms should not be confused with anti-viral medications, which can only be obtained with a valid prescription.
- Do these medicines prevent me from catching Swine Flu?
While preventative medication might be advisable for special circumstances where a person has exposed themselves to ill people during an epidemic, it is not advisable to proactively medicate yourself against Swine Flu.
We are currently not facing an epidemic in the US, so, therefore, US residents should not be concerned about protecting themselves from Swine Flu by using the medicine.
People such as ER workers, or residents in nursing homes where an outbreak has occurred, might consider protecting all the other residents, workers, and employees with a drug like Tamiflu.
Currently, the preventative use of anti-viral medications is not advised for the general public.
- How long are infected people contagious?
While the initial incubation period is usually 24-48 hours, an adult is usually contagious as long as they have symptoms, which can usually extend up to seven days following the beginning of the illness.
Children can be considered contagious for up to 10 days.
- Do adults have the same symptoms as children?
Although the symptoms are similar, the signs of potentially life-threatening complications are not.
The CDC advises children with the following symptoms to seek emergency care immediately:
- Rapid breathing
- Skin rash combined with fever
- Bluish skin color
- Difficulty breathing
- Extremely irritability without the presence of in-laws
- Dehydration or an inability to consume enough liquids
- Inability to wake up or interact with others
In adults, the emergency warning signs are:
- Pain or pressure in the abdomen or chest
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Difficulty breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Sudden dizziness
- Are there currently any vaccinations for Swine Flu?
Authorities such as the CDC are considering adding the current Swine Flu strain to next year’s vaccine, but as of today, there are no Swine Flu vaccinations.
- Does the flu vaccine I took in the 1970s scare protect me now?
Nobody knows whether protection may be full, partial, or not at all. We do know that the Swine Flu of 1976 is a completely different strain, with a completely different genetic makeup, from the Swine Flu of 2009.
- Will this year’s flu shot offer me any additional protection?
Again, nobody knows whether protection may be full, partial, or not at all.
- Is Swine Flu related to bird (avian) flu?
The current Swine Flu strain also has avian flu components, but they are not from the deadly Bird Flu strain. Typical strains of Bird Flu are very unlikely to jump to humans.
In addition to Swine Flu, Bird Flu and human seasonal flu viruses can infect pigs. The virulent H3N2 Influenza virus subtype is thought to have come from pigs and it went on to infect humans.
Interestingly, it is possible for pigs to simultaneously be infected with more than one flu virus. When this happens the genes of the viruses have the opportunity to mingle.
A reassortant virus is created when different flu subtypes mix. These are often dangerous new viruses with symptoms of both original strains.
- Can I catch the Swine Flu from pigs?
No. The current strain of Swine Flu is only passed by contact with other humans. It is a mutated pig virus that is highly unlikely to mutate again in such a way as to be contagious to humans.
- Can I catch the Swine Flu from consuming pork products?
No. Swine Flu is transmitted by direct and indirect contact with an infected human, usually through a cough or sneeze. Swine Flu is definitely not transmitted by the food you consume; that is to say that it is not a foodborne illness.
The Influenza virus dies at 160 degrees Fahrenheit. As long as they are prepared properly, all pork products are safe to consume.
- How does the Swine Flu jump from pigs to humans?
One particular pig had contracted an unlikely mutation of the Influenza virus. That particular strain was passed on to a single child and spread through direct or indirect contact with other countries in the world.
Now that the current strain is being passed from human to human it could continue to mutate into more virulent strains of the virus, which will all be contagious to humans but will most likely not be contagious to pigs any longer.
- Do viruses often transmit from animals to humans?
Yes. More than 200 “zoonotic diseases” are transmitted from animals to humans. These diseases include illness caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
Rabies and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (aka, CJD, or ‘mad cow disease’) are two well-known examples.
- Can Swine Flu kill me?
Yes. While deaths have been reported in Mexico City, US cases have all been mild. There have been no deaths as of Monday, April 27.
All the factors geographically and demographically that may contribute to the mildness or severity of this flu are not yet known. Like seasonal flu, there is always the potential for serious outcomes.
- Why are larger numbers of people dying in Mexico than in other countries?
This is a mystery that doctors are currently trying to solve.
Most experts say it’s most likely that since there are more illnesses in Mexico, there are also more deaths. Other explanations describe that in Mexico people have, in addition to swine flu, other viruses that make for a more deadly combination than swine flu alone.
It is also possible that the virus infecting Mexico is stronger than the viruses reported in other parts of the world.
- Could this new swine flu virus have been manufactured by bioterrorists?
Experts do not believe this to be the case.
Dr. Gerald Evans, an associate professor of microbiology at Queen’s University in Canada, has commented on this debate:
“If you were a bioterrorist you’d want to create something that’s a lot more deadly than this. The problem with influenza is that the second you put it into people, it replicates and mutates very quickly. Even if you created the perfect bioweapon, within a few generations of transmissions, it wouldn’t do what you planned for it to do.”
- Why should we be concerned with the Swine Flu?
Since the regular flu kills 35,000 people a year, and we are encouraged to get a flu shot, you might think you should not be concerned about this fairly non-lethal Influenza mutation. Cause for concern has yet to be determined.
We will know more about this strain in the coming days. For now, the CDC is concerned because this new virus has struck and killed healthy young adults, whereas typical flu strains only have severe effects in children, the elderly, and chronically ill patients.
This is a new strain of the virus that humans have never been exposed to before, so no one knows for sure how explosively the virus will mutate as it is passed from human to human.
- Should we be freaking out?
No. The virus does not spread very readily. Even where outbreaks have occurred, the virus is not wiping out those locations.
Instead, we should stay informed, take healthy every-day precautions, and avoid vacationing in Mexico.
- Will the Swine Flu scare go away like the killer Bird Flu scare?
The Bird Flu does not pass to humans without a specific mutation, but the present Swine Flu has already caused a major outbreak in Mexico and has spread to several US states (Ohio, New York, Texas, California, and Kansas).
The CDC is not yet clear on whether this virus will result in a worldwide pandemic with major international outbreaks, or whether it will fizzle out. Whatever happens, there is still a logical concern that the Swine Flu might re-emerge the next flu season.
- Should I cancel my vacation to Mexico?
Yes. If you can avoid traveling to Mexico, you should. Not only could you be exposed to the Swine Flu, but the government has also shut down major areas where transmission could likely occur, which effectively limits tourism and vacation possibilities.
More than 4,000 flights to Mexico from the US and have been canceled as of this writing, although some international airports in Europe and Asia are stepping up precautions and issuing alerts. Check the CDC’s Travel Alerts page if you are planning to travel abroad.
- Should I wear a mask if I am on a plane?
No. Because the air on a plane is filtered, wearing a mask is not necessary. However, the transmission could occur if someone sitting close to you coughs or sneezes on you.
The newer designs of aircraft airflow keep the air in a top-down flow, not forced air from the front to back. However, if you do have a respiratory illness, it might be best not to travel.
- How long does the Swine Flu live on surfaces like doorknobs, keyboards, and desks?
Influenza thrives in warm, moist environments, and dies on cold, dry surfaces. You should mostly be concerned with people within a 6-foot radius of you, who are coughing or sneezing openly. Do not shake their hands and then touch your face. Do not breathe deeply if someone has just coughed or sneezed anywhere near you.
Doorknobs and other commonly touched surfaces are very inefficient ways to spread Influenza. That being said, you should not absently touch your face at any time. Try to make sure you wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap and/or use a hand sanitizer at regular intervals throughout the day.
- What other precautions can I take to help protect myself and others?
- If you are sick, stay home.
- Control your sneezes and coughs by using a tissue or your sleeve.
- Avoid shaking hands with others if you have just coughed or sneezed into your hand.
- If you get symptoms suggesting the flu, call your doctor for a prescription.
- Do not go to the doctor’s office or a hospital for Influenza symptoms unless you are seriously ill in order to avoid spreading the disease to others.
- Wash your hands several times a day with anti-bacterial soap.
- Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer with you at all times. Sanitize randomly and purposely throughout the day.
- Avoid touching your face unless you have washed or sanitized.
- What is the best way to wash my hands?
The object of hand-washing is to break down the protective membranes of germs, dislodge them from your hands and let them go down the drain. Plain soap in the right hands is strong stuff. If you wash your hands like a wuss, you’re not doing yourself or anyone else much good.
How to effectively wash your hands with soap:
- Lather well with a bar of soap or squirt a coin size of liquid soap in the palm of your hand.
- Vigorously rub your hands together, soap up between your fingers and wrists, front and back for 15 seconds.
- Rinse under warm, running water. The object is to dislodge germs, so the force of the running water is important.
- Thoroughly dry your hands with a disposable towel or under the blower, again, rubbing your hands together.
- Discard the towel.
How to effectively wash your hands with hand sanitizer:
- Put a dime-sized amount on one hand.
- Vigorously rub your hands together and in between your fingers until the gel is dry, or about 30 seconds.
- Do not touch your face!
Once your hands are clean, do not touch your face, nose, eyes, or lips.
Rubbing your eyes and nose provides a freeway for micro-organisms and good breeding ground once they’ve arrived.
- How can I get updated Swine Flu information?
Use CDC messages to keep informed using the following link:
Also, check out updates by the World Health Organization (WHO) at the following link:
In conclusion, there’s no need to panic but we should all stay abreast of the situation. Keep your hands and face clean and you can avoid the swine flu, as well as a whole host of other germs and diseases that you probably don’t want.