So itís finally here. Ten confirmed cases of the swine flu have been reported in Dominica. Several other Caribbean islands have reported deaths from this disease.
In June this year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) raised the world wide pandemic alert level to Phase 6 which signalled that novel influenza A (H1N1), more commonly called swine flu, had become a global pandemic. This move was based on the spread of the virus, not its severity; in other words this flu was spreading at a fast rate.
However the end is not near! Most people recover from this flu. Understanding this virus and how it works is the best way to defend against it. Read on to get your swine flu questions answered.
What is swine flu?
H1N1 influenza virus viewed under an electron microscope.
photo: CDC Influenza Laboratory, courtesy Wikipedia.org
Novel H1N1, as it is officially known, is a contagious respiratory disease caused by the influenza A H1N1 virus. This virus is a mutation of a swine influenza virus that has combined with genetic material from human and bird flu viruses.
This "swine flu" is a new strain is believed to have been first contracted from pigs by people working closely with infected pigs, such as pig farmers, where it is possible to inhale air-borne vital particles. The influenza that affects pigs rarely causes swine death. The disease is not transmitted by eating cooked pig meat as the virus cannot survive cooking temperatures.
Where the H1N1 virus comes from.
How is swine flu spread in human?
The virus is spread via inhalation of air-borne viral particles.
Like other respiratory diseases, the swine flu virus is contracted primarily when a person sneezes, coughs or spits. Droplets containing the virus are sprayed into the air, where they may be inhaled by someone nearby. Infected droplets can land on surfaces like door knobs, desk or countertops, in which the virus can survive for up to eight hours. Touching contaminated surfaces and then rubbing your nose or wiping your eyes will then transfer the virus through even the tiniest abrasion in your skin or through your eyes, nose or mouth.
Why does the virus mutate?
Once in your body the virus must multiply to spread. It enters a living cell where it may mix its genetic material with its host to multiply itself until there are so many copies that they burst out of the host cell to infect new cells. This mixing may result in an altered virus.
Can you catch the flu twice?
Yes. The flu virus can mutate. When the virus infects your body, your body will produce antibodies to fight off the virus. If the virus mutates and infects your body, your immune may not recognise the new strain.
How long does it to become infectious?
A person infected with swine flu can spread the virus 24 hours before he/she starts to experience symptoms. The person can remain contagious for up to seven days. Children can stay infectious for longer.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of swine flu are similar the common flu. They include fever, sore throat, cough, body aches, chills and fatigue. People suffering from swine flu also may have diarrhoea and vomiting.
Unless your condition is severe, swine flu can be treated like most flu infections. Plenty of rest, drinking plenty fluids and taking the prescribed (generally over-the-counter) medications are the generally rec≠om≠men≠ded tactics for recovery. High risk people are those over 65 years or have chronic diseases: they are at risk of developing complications. They may need the antiviral medications or hospitalisation.
Consult your doctor if you have the symptoms.
What is the best way to protect yourself?
The best advice is to wash your hands frequently with soap and water. Use enough soap and wash your hands thoroughly for up to 20 seconds; especially before eating and after sneezing or coughing. Alcohol-based hand-sanitising gels are also effective, as long as you rub the gel into your hands together until they are dry.
How can you reduce the spread of the swine flu?
You can reduce the chance of spreading the flu by always covering your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, making sure to throw away the used tissues into the trash. If you donít have a tissue at hand use your sleeve to cover your nose and mouth. Wash your hands thoroughly after coughing or sneezing.
Reduce the spread, follow the precautions.
It is recommended that you stay home for seven days after your symptoms begin, or until 24 hours after you no longer experience symptoms.
If you donít live alone quarantine yourself from the rest of the occupantsensure that they observe all precautions.