Novel H1N1 or Swine Flu is an influenza virus that is spreading from person-to-person. Today it is a major challenge for health officials to completely immunize the whole mankind from this disease as for now it has taken the form of epidemic. In India alone 1,841 people have succumbed to the disease while 31,156 people are already affected across the country. While 17 per cent of the deaths occurred in the age group 18-30 years while 12 per cent of the casualties were in the 60 and above category. Not only pigs and human but other species like dogs, birds, cats and minks too are also affected by H1N1 flu.
But the question is what actually the Swine Flu is?
Swine flu (swine influenza) is a respiratory disease caused by viruses (influenza viruses) that infect the respiratory tract of pigs, resulting in nasal secretions, a barking cough, decreased appetite, and listless behaviour. The same symptoms are found in human too. H1N1 influenza, pandemic H1N1/09 virus, Pig Flu, H1N1 flu, novel flu virus, Mexican virus and 2009 H1N1 flu are the other names of Swine Flu.
People highly prone to this infection may include those aged over 65 years of age, children under 5,pregnant woman and those who are suffering from weak immune system( such as AIDS patient) , asthma, diabetes, heart disease, etc. In severe cases patient generally begins to deteriorate rapidly which results to respiratory failure within 24 hours and they are thus kept on ventilator for respiratory support.
How Swine Flu spread?
Pigs can play a unique role as an intermediary host to new flu types. It is because pig respiratory cells can be infected directly with bird, human, and other mammalian flu viruses. Consequently, pigs function as a "mixing bowl" for flu RNA segments. Thus, people who have regular contact with pigs have higher risk of infection.
Secondly, Swine flu is also transmitted from person-to-person by inhalation or ingestion of droplets containing virus from people who sneeze or cough .It is also potentially spread by touching a surface or the hand of a person contaminated with the virus and then touching one's eyes, nose or mouth and not by eating cooked pork products. The infection was first seen in Mexico in the year 2009 and since then it spread rapidly and thereafter the virus was termed by WHO as "pandemic H1N1/09 virus". The virus strain was responsible for the 2009 flu pandemic.
How to detect and prevent the H1N1 disease?
The symptoms of H1N1 flu are similar to those of other influenzas, and may include fever, dry cough, headache, muscle or joint pain, sore throat, chills, fatigue, and runny nose. Diarrhoea, vomiting, and neurological problems have also been reported in some cases.
If suspected, RT-PCR (Real-time Polymerase Chain Reaction) is recommended for the detection of the virus as this test can differentiate best between seasonal flu and swine flu. Fluid samples from nose, throat, or mouth may be collected for this test.
If already infected, patient must stay home for 7 days after the symptoms begin or until the person is symptom-free for 24 hours, whichever is longer. A sick person must limit his contact with other people as much as possible to contribute to the prevention of spread of disease.
Vaccination is the best way to prevent or reduce the chances of becoming infected with influenza viruses. Antiviral drugs Tamiflu and Zanamivir are also available for prevention and treatment of disease.
Everyday steps like washing hands with soap and warm water especially after coughing or sneezing, use of gel sanitizers or alcohol-based hand wipes, covering our mouth or nose while sneezing and coughing, and avoiding contact with sick people prevents chances of getting infected.
While on the positive side, health officials predict that there is a chance of decrease in death numbers and new infections cases with temperature rise during summers. We must always remember, "Prevention is better than cure."