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H1N1 Virus / Swine Flu – Discuss

The "flu" which is also known as Influenza is a seasonal respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. The flu season typically starts in late November and lasts through early spring. The viruses can cause mild to severe illness sometimes resulting in death. It is important to note that the flu is different from a common cold or seasonal allergies. Generally, the onset of the flu is sudden and symptoms include fever (usually high), headache, chills, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, dry cough, severe exhaustion, muscle aches and stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

The flu differs from the common cold in that it lasts longer (about two weeks) and can be temporarily debilitating even in healthy individuals. There are three types of Influenza viruses – A, B, and C. Influenza A is further categorized into subtypes based on the type of two surface proteins – hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N).

The World Health Organization (WHO) is coordinating the global response to human cases of Swine Influenza A (H1N1) and monitoring the corresponding threat of an influenza pandemic. Pandemic refers to a widespread, usually global spread of a disease, while an epidemic is localized to a geographic region. According to the World Health Organization, "an influenza pandemic occurs when a new influenza virus appears against which the human population has no immunity, resulting in epidemics worldwide with enormous numbers of deaths and illness."

The current influenza outbreak of swine flu is a result of an influenza virus species that infected pigs, then re-assort (swap genes) and the new virus emerging. This new virus that has emerged is a mixture of swine, human and avian influenza viruses.

The swine influenza A (H1N1) virus is likely to be transmitted in the same manner as the seasonal flu spreads. The main transmission of flu viruses from person to person is through coughing or sneezing. Transmission can also occur by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching the mouth or nose. Persons with swine flu should be considered potentially contagious as long as they are symptomatic and possibly for up to seven days following illness onset. Children, especially younger children, can potentially be contagious for a longer period.

People infected with the swine flu may be able to infect others on day one before symptoms develop and up to seven or more days after becoming sick. This means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick. Viruses and bacteria can live up to two hours or longer on surfaces such as cafeteria tables, doorknobs and desks. Washing hands frequently will help reduce the chance of getting contamination from common surfaces.

One concern with this recent strain of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus is that there is a real threat to persons with seemingly healthy immune systems. The danger is that healthy people have no defenses built up to this influenza virus and causing a healthy immune system to overreact and attack the body's healthy organs and systems – this makes a healthy 15-60 year old individual more likely to succumb to this new virus.

The best protection against the global swine influenza A (H1N1) virus outbreak is strict adherence to infection control procedures. Remember, one of the easiest ways to transmit a viral infection from one person to another is through a handshake, which transfers virus from the hand of one person who may have rubbed his nose to another person's hand. The second individual then touches his/her nose, eyes, or mouth and later develops an infection.

As the saying goes "Prevention is better than cure" it is important for each and every one of us to follow a well-balanced lifestyle which can keep the disease at bay. Of course, it is impossible to completely prevent any virus entering our body but chances of a viruses emerging as a new strain or it may evolve as completely new organism, but who knows what will happen as this new strain affect mankind? May be the outbreak of this disease can be more severe than H1N1 which affected millions of lives. So, having a healthy balanced diet along with exercise is utmost important to build up our immunity to fight against these deadly diseases.

Ruby Chaudhary