What is virus?
Virus is a submicroscopic infectious agent that grows or reproduces on a host cell like an obligate intracellular parasite. It is non-cellular in nature with a core of DNA or RNA. This core is then surrounded by a protein coat. Some viruses cause diseases in the host organism while others do not.
Viruses are of several types and are classified on the basis of their type of genome.
What is the meaning of pandemic?
The spread of a contagious, infectious or viral illness across several communities and countries is known as pandemic. It is an epidemic over a wide geographic area that affects a large percentage of the population, thereby attaining global proportions.
What is swine flu? Why we call H1N1 virus as swine flu?
Swine flu (swine influenza) is a disease that infects pigs. It is a highly contagious respiratory disease. It is caused by Influenza A viruses. The most common swine flu virus is the H1N1 influenza subtype. The other types of swine flu virus are: H1N2, H3N1, and H3N2.
As said before, it is highly contagious in nature and spread from one pig to another through direct or indirect contact. It spreads through aerosols and from pigs who are infected but do not have symptoms. Swine flu kills almost 1% to 4% of the pigs that are infected by it.
The current outbreak of swine flu among humans is caused by the H1N1 subtype. However, this type is less dangerous in comparison to the other types.
How does swine flu kill?
When a person gets infected by swine flu, the virus attaches and enters into the cells of the respiratory tract (nose, throat, and lungs). The virus is toxic in nature thereby harming the respiratory tract cells. This causes the immune system to respond with an influx of white blood cells and immune molecules known as cytokines. This strong reaction of the immune system triggers something known as a "cytokine storm". A cytokine storm can overwhelm the nervous system and cause breathing problems. Moreover, the influx of white blood cells not only blocks some of the airways of the lungs but also damages it.
This cytokine storm causes inflammation of the respiratory tract. The symptoms associated with this inflammation are the common symptoms associated with flu, like fever, chills, exhaustion, loss of appetite, and cough, as well as other respiratory symptoms.
If the influenza is left untreated, it attains a severity which results in pneumonia. Pneumonia is the main reason behind the deaths caused by influenza. Moreover, influenza also damages the respiratory tissues, which in turn allows other infectious microbes to invade and cause secondary infections. A type of secondary infection is bacterial pneumonia. This bacterial pneumonia is fatal in nature if left untreated.
Swine flu is also fatal to those who have underlying health conditions and other health complexities.
Who is at highest risk of swine flu?
The high risk groups of swine flu are:
- People of any age with serious existing illness that weakens the immune system, like cancer or AIDS.
- People of any age suffering from certain medical conditions, such as heart or lung diseases like asthma, COPD, and emphysema or diabetes.
- People above the age of 50.
- Pregnant women.
- Children between six months and 19 years of age. The younger the child is, the higher the risk factor is.
How is swine flu transmitted?
Swine flu like other viruses enters the human body through the mucous membranes of the eyes, the nose or the mouth. Swine flu spreads like the regular seasonal flu and goes from one person to person through close contact, direct touch or indirect touch. When a person coughs or sneezes, the virus spreads through the droplets that come out of the nose and mouth. Usually, if a person coughs or sneezes without covering his nose or mouth the virus spread out at a radius of one meter (3 feet). If a healthy person standing nearby inhales the tiny droplets he may get infected. Similarly, if the infected person coughs or sneezes with his mouth or nose covered by his hand and then touches common properties like door knobs, hand rails, keyboard telephone the virus gets easily transferred to those surfaces. Thereafter, if a healthy person touches those surfaces he gets easily infected.
The virus also spreads directly from skin to skin contact through gestures like shaking hands, kissing, or hugging. It is also transmitted by caring for a child or other infected person with hands-on care.
Swine flu also spreads by sharing drinking glasses or eating utensils with an infected patient. It is also spread through gastrointestinal means, such as saliva, emesis (vomit), and feces (stool).
What are the symptoms for swine flu (H1N1)?
The symptoms of swine flu are similar to most influenza infections.
The symptoms are:
- Fever (100F or greater)
- Nasal secretion
- Fatigue or tiredness
- Sore throat
- Body aches
- Nausea and vomiting
The symptoms of extreme cases of swine flu include pneumonia and respiratory failure.
Some serious symptoms of swine flu in children, demanding immediate medical attention are:
- Not waking up or interacting
- Irritable and cranky
- Breathlessness, fast breathing or troubled breathing
- Bluish or gray skin color
- Lesser intake of fluids
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Fever with severe cough
How the swine flu (H1N1) is diagnosed?
The most common way of testing swine flu is a quick test (for example, nasopharyngeal swab sample). This test determines whether the patient is infected with influenza A or B virus. If the test is positive for type B, the patient is not likely to be suffering from swine flu. If the test results are positive for type A, the patient may be suffering from a conventional flu strain or swine flu (H1N1).
However, these tests are not able to determine the difference between the conventional type A influenza and swine flu. For this, there are more accurate laboratory tests like real-time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR). These tests are only available in certain laboratories, and are time consuming as they take several days to obtain results.
What is the treatment for swine flu (H1N1)?
The best treatment for swine flu infections in humans is through vaccinations.
Nasal spray vaccines: These are vaccines that contain live, attenuated H1N1 virus. However, these vaccines are not recommended for pregnant women or people with weak immune systems.
Injectable vaccine: These vaccines are made of dead H1N1 virus. These vaccines are recommended for six months old babies to elderly people. These vaccines can also be used safely on pregnant women.
Antiviral agents: Zanamivir (Relenza) and oseltamivir (Tamiflu) are two antiviral agents that prevent as well as reduce the effects of swine flu. However, these drugs are not recommended if the flu symptoms have been present for 48 hours or more.
What are the precautions I have to take to prevent swine flu?
Some common daily steps can provide the necessary precautions against swine flu.
- Clean all of the hard, non-porous surfaces that often come in contact with you. Cleaning of tables, counters, telephones, handles, door knobs etc. can effectively reduce the risk of acquiring the virus.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Thereafter, throw away the infected tissue immediately.
- Wash your hands with warm water and a disinfecting soap as often as required. In the absence of water an alcohol-based hand rub could be used. However, a simple run under the water doesn’t remove the germs. It simply creates a breeding ground for them.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth under any circumstances.
- Seclusion is recommended for the high risk group, especially pregnant women.
- Large crowds, social events like parties and concerts, public places like stores, the airport, and airlines should be avoided in the wake of a pandemic.
What are the Home Remedies available to prevent the swine flu?
Some of the home remedies for swine flu are:
Vitamin C: Daily intake of Vitamin C is recommended to boost the immune system and increase the number of white blood cells.
Giloy or amrita or tinospora: Consumption of tea made of giloy mixed with triphala twice daily reduces the risk of contracting swine flu.
Herbal Tea: Consumption of herbal tea made of the following following ingredients is also recommended:
1 tsp. bayberry bark
1 tsp. grated ginger root
½ tsp. cayenne powder
These ingredients are added to one cup of boiling water. Thereafter, the mixture is allowed to sit for 20 minutes.
Steam Inhalation: Steam inhalation with eucalyptus or chamomile three times a day provides relief to jammed lungs. This home remedy also helps in alleviating swine flu symptoms.
Zinc lozenges: These are also recommended as it boosts the immune system.
Colloidal silver: This is recommended as it kills the viruses.
Honey: A mixture containing two tablespoons of vinegar and one tablespoon of honey in one cup of warm water is recommended. This mixture helps in preventing swine flu by killing the microbes.
Homeopathic Preparations: One may consume homeopathic preparations for "cold and flu" during the flu season. This provides precautionary protection against flu virus. If the patient start exhibiting symptoms like lack of appetite, body aches, feel better drinking warm fluids, and feel worse during the night, consumption of arsenicum album is recommended. If the patient exhibit symptoms like cough, throat and chest pain, dry mouth and lips, and excessive thirst, consumption of bryonia is recommended.
Written by: healthplus24.com team
Date last updated: January 02, 2015