Swine Flu – Facts, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Prevention, Treatment and Vaccine

Recently, we have seen a surge in the case of Swine flu related deaths in different parts of Pakistan. Being a Pro-Pakistan blogger, we searched the internet to find out any detail article but there was no one article that could provide all the necessary details under one complete article. The below information has been taken from different sources to come up with a one detail article for our readers who wants to know everything about Swine Flu!

What is Swine Flu?

Swine flu (swine influenza) is a respiratory disease caused by viruses (influenza viruses) that infect the respiratory tract of pigs and result in nasal secretions, a barking-like cough, decreased appetite, and listless behavior. Swine flu produces most of the same symptoms in pigs as human flu produces in people. Swine flu can last about one to two weeks in pigs that survive. Swine influenza virus was first isolated from pigs in 1930 in the U.S. and has been recognized by pork producers and veterinarians to cause infections in pigs worldwide. In a number of instances, people have developed the swine flu infection when they are closely associated with pigs (for example, farmers, pork processors), and likewise, pig populations have occasionally been infected with the human flu infection. In most instances, the cross-species infections (swine virus to man; human flu virus to pigs) have remained in local areas and have not caused national or worldwide infections in either pigs or humans. Unfortunately, this cross-species situation with influenza viruses has had the potential to change. Investigators think the 2009 swine flu strain, first seen in Mexico, should be termed novel H1N1 flu since it is mainly found infecting people and exhibits two main surface antigens, H1 (hemagglutinin type 1) and N1 (neuraminidase type1). Recent investigations show the eight RNA strands from novel H1N1 flu have one strand derived from human flu strains, two from avian (bird) strains, and five from swine strains.

What are the Symptoms of Swine Flu?

Symptoms of swine flu are similar to most influenza infections: fever (100F or greater), cough, nasal secretions, fatigue, and headache, with fatigue being reported in most infected individuals. Some patients also get nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In Mexico, many of the patients are young adults, which made some investigators speculate that a strong immune response may cause some collateral tissue damage. Some patients develop severe respiratory symptoms and need respiratory support (such as a ventilator to breathe for the patient). Patients can get pneumonia (bacterial secondary infection) if the viral infection persists, and some can develop seizures. Death often occurs from secondary bacterial infection of the lungs; appropriate antibiotics need to be used in these patients. The usual mortality (death) rate for typical influenza A is about 0.1%, while the 1918 “Spanish flu” epidemic had an estimated mortality rate ranging from 2%-20%. Swine flu in Mexico (as of April 2009) has had about 160 deaths and about 2,500 confirmed cases, which would correspond to a mortality rate of about 6%, but these initial data have been revised and the mortality rate currently in Mexico is estimated to be much lower. By June 2009, the virus had reached 74 different countries on every continent except Antarctica, and by September 2009, the virus had been reported in most countries in the world. Fortunately, the mortality rate as of October 2009 has been low but higher than for the conventional flu (average conventional flu mortality rate is about 36,000 per year; projected novel H1N1 flu mortality rate is 90,000 per year in the U.S. as determined by the president’s advisory committee).

How is Swine Flu (H1N1) Diagnosed?

Swine flu is presumptively diagnosed clinically by the patient’s history of association with people known to have the disease and their symptoms listed above. Usually, a quick test (for example, nasopharyngeal swab sample) is done to see if the patient is infected with influenza A or B virus. Most of the tests can distinguish between A and B types. The test can be negative (no flu infection) or positive for type A and B. If the test is positive for type B, the flu is not likely to be swine flu (H1N1). If it is positive for type A, the person could have a conventional flu strain or swine flu (H1N1). However, the accuracy of these tests has been challenged, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not completed their comparative studies of these tests. However, a new test developed by the CDC and a commercial company reportedly can detect H1N1 reliably in about one hour; as of October 2009, the test is only available to the military.

Swine flu (H1N1) is definitively diagnosed by identifying the particular antigens associated with the virus type. In general, this test is done in a specialized laboratory and is not done by many doctors’ offices or hospital laboratories. However, doctors’ offices are able to send specimens to specialized laboratories if necessary. Because of the large number of novel H1N1 swine flu cases (as of October 2009, the vast majority of flu cases [about 99%] are due to novel H1N1 flu viruses).

What treatment is available for swine flu (H1N1)?
The best treatment for influenza infections in humans is prevention by vaccination. Work by several laboratories has recently produced vaccines. The first vaccine released in early October 2009 was a nasal spray vaccine. It is approved for use in healthy individuals ages 2 through 49. This vaccine consists of a live attenuated H1N1 virus and should not be used in anyone who is pregnant or immunocompromised. The injectable vaccine, made from killed H1N1, became available in the second week of October. This vaccine is approved for use in ages 6 months to the elderly, including pregnant females. Both of these vaccines have been approved by the CDC only after they had conducted clinical trials to prove that the vaccines were safe and effective. However, caregivers should be aware of the vaccine guidelines that come with the vaccines, as occasionally, the guidelines change. Please see the sections below titled “Can novel H1N1 swine flu be prevented with a vaccine?” and the timeline update for the current information on the vaccines.

Two antiviral agents have been reported to help prevent or reduce the effects of swine flu. They are zanamivir (Relenza) and oseltamivir (Tamiflu), both of which are also used to prevent or reduce influenza A and B symptoms. These drugs should not be used indiscriminately, because viral resistance to them can and has occurred. Also, they are not recommended if the flu symptoms already have been present for 48 hours or more, although hospitalized patients may still be treated past the 48-hour guideline. Severe infections in some patients may require additional supportive measures such as ventilation support and treatment of other infections like pneumonia that can occur in patients with a severe flu infection. The CDC has suggested in their interim guidelines that pregnant females can be treated with the two antiviral agents.

How to Prevent Swine Flu from Spreading?
Influenza spreads between humans through coughing or sneezing and people touching something with the virus on it and then touching their own nose or mouth. Swine flu cannot be spread by pork products, since the virus is not transmitted through food. The swine flu in humans is most contagious during the first five days of the illness although some people, most commonly children, can remain contagious for up to ten days. Diagnosis can be made by sending a specimen, collected during the first five days for analysis.

Thermal imaging camera & screen, photographed in an airport terminal in Greece. Thermal imaging can detect elevated body temperature, one of the signs of the virus N1H1 (Swine influenza).

Recommendations to prevent spread of the virus among humans include using standard infection control against influenza. This includes frequent washing of hands with soap and water or with alcohol-based hand sanitizers, especially after being out in public.Chance of transmission is also reduced by disinfecting household surfaces, which can be done effectively with a diluted chlorine bleach solution.
Experts agree that hand-washing can help prevent viral infections, including ordinary influenza and the swine flu virus. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth with hands prevents flu. Influenza can spread in coughs or sneezes, but an increasing body of evidence shows small droplets containing the virus can linger on tabletops, telephones and other surfaces and be transferred via the fingers to the mouth, nose or eyes. Alcohol-based gel or foam hand sanitizers work well to destroy viruses and bacteria. Anyone with flu-like symptoms such as a sudden fever, cough or muscle aches should stay away from work or public transportation and should contact a doctor for advice.
Social distancing is another tactic. It means staying away from other people who might be infected and can include avoiding large gatherings, spreading out a little at work, or perhaps staying home and lying low if an infection is spreading in a community. Public health and other responsible authorities have action plans which may request or require social distancing actions depending on the severity of the outbreak.

Can novel H1N1 swine flu be prevented with a vaccine?
The best way to prevent novel H1N1 swine flu would be the same best way to prevent other influenza infections, and that is vaccination. The CDC has multiple recommendations for vaccination based on who should obtain the first doses when the vaccine becomes available (to protect the most susceptible populations) and according to age groups. The CDC based the recommendations on data obtained from vaccine trials and infection reports gathered over the last few months. The current (October 2009) vaccine recommendations from the CDC say the following groups should get the vaccine as soon as it is available:

* pregnant women,
* people who live with or provide care for children younger than 6 months of age,
* health-care and emergency medical services personnel,
* people between 6 months and 24 years of age, and
* people from the ages of 25 through 64 who are at higher risk because of chronic health disorders such as asthma, diabetes, or a weakened immune system.

Currently, the CDC is stating that people ages 10 and above are likely to need only one vaccine shot to provide protection against novel H1N1 swine flu and further suggest that these shots will be effective in about 76% of people who obtain the vaccine. New vaccine trial data showed that healthy adults produce protective antibodies in about 98% of people in 21 days. Unfortunately, the vaccine shot in children ages 6 months to 9 years of age is not as effective as it is in older children and adults. Consequently, the CDC currently recommends that for ages 6 months up to and including 9 years of age, the children obtain two shots of the novel H1N1 vaccine, the second shot 21 days after the first shot.

Another type of vaccine (currently named Influenza A [H1N1] 2009 Monovalent Vaccine Live, Intranasal) has been made available during the first week in October 2009. It is a live attenuated novel H1N1 flu vaccine that contains no thimerosal, is produced by MedImmune, LLC, and is sprayed into the nostrils. This vaccine is only for healthy people 2-49 years of age, and some data suggest that it is less effective in generating an immune response in adults than the vaccine injection. The dosing schedule is as follows:

* Children 2-9 years of age should receive two doses (0.1 ml in each nostril; total equals 0.2 ml per dose) — the second dose should be given the same way about one month after the first dose
* Children, adolescents and adults, 10-49 years of age should receive one dose — (0.1 ml in each nostril; total equals 0.2 ml per dose)

The CDC occasionally makes changes and updates its information on vaccines and other recommendations about the current flu pandemic. The CDC states, “for the most accurate health information, visit http://www.cdc.gov or call 1-800-CDC-INFO, 24/7.” Caregivers should check the vaccine package inserts for more detailed information on the vaccines when they become available. This article has an updated timeline for novel H1N1 swine flu attached (see below) and provides the reader with current details about the pandemic. The following is a list of the CDC-approved H1N1 vaccines and the companies that name and manufacture them as of 10/29/09:

* Influenza A (H1N1) 2009 Monovalent Vaccine by Sanofi Pasteur

* Influenza A (H1N1) 2009 Monovalent Vaccine by Novartis

* Influenza A (H1N1) 2009 Monovalent Vaccine Live, Intranasal by MedImmune, LLC

* Influenza A (H1N1) 2009 Monovalent Vaccine by CSL Limited

The CDC says that a good way to prevent any flu disease is to avoid exposure to the virus; this is done by frequent hand washing, not touching your hands to your face (especially the nose and mouth), and avoiding any close proximity to or touching any person who may have flu symptoms. Since the virus can remain viable and infectious for about 48 hours on many surfaces, good hygiene and cleaning with soap and water or alcohol-based hand disinfectants are also recommended. Some physicians say face masks may help prevent getting airborne flu viruses (for example, from a cough or sneeze), but others think the better use for masks would be on those people who have symptoms and sneeze or cough. The use of Tamiflu or Relenza may help prevent the flu if taken before symptoms develop or reduce symptoms if taken within about 48 hours after symptoms develop. Some investigators say that administration of these drugs is still useful after 48 hours, especially in high-risk patient populations .However, taking these drugs is not routinely recommended for prevention for the healthy population because investigators suggest that as occurs with most drugs, flu strains will develop resistance to these medications. Recently, the CDC made further suggestions about the use of these antiviral medications. Dr. Schuchat, a CDC official, indicated that three modifications were being suggested (Sept. 8, 2009) to the interim guidelines for use of Tamiflu and Relenza:

1. Patients with high-risk factors should discuss flu symptoms and when to use antiviral medications; doctors should provide a prescription for the antiviral drug for the patient to use if the patient is exposed to flu or develops flu-like symptoms without having to go in to see the doctor.

2. “Watchful waiting” was added as a response to taking antiviral medications, with the emphasis on the fact that those people who develop fever and have a preexisting health condition should then begin the antiviral medication.

3. The antiviral medications are the first-line medicines for treatment of novel H1N1 swine flu, and most current cases of flu are novel H1N1 and are, to date, susceptible to Tamiflu and Relenza.

Your doctor should be consulted before these drugs are prescribed.

In general, preventive measures to prevent the spread of flu are often undertaken by those people who have symptoms. Symptomatic people should stay at home, avoid crowds, and take off from work or school until the disease is no longer transmittable (about two to three weeks) or until medical help and advice is sought. Sneezing, coughing, and nasal secretions need to be kept away from other people; simply using tissues and disposing of them will help others. Quarantining patients is usually not warranted, but such measures depend on the severity of the disease. The CDC recommends that people who appear to have an influenza-like illness upon arrival at work or school or become ill during the day be promptly separated from other people and be advised to go home until at least 24 hours after they are free of fever (100 F [37.8 C] or greater), or signs of a fever, without the use of fever-reducing medications. The novel H1N1 swine flu disease takes about seven to 10 days before fevers stop, but new research data (Sept. 14, 2009) suggests waiting until the cough is gone since many people are still infectious about one week after fever is gone. The CDC has not yet extended their recommendations to stay home for that extra week.

Pregnant women are strongly suggested to get vaccinated as stated above. Although some vaccine preparations (multidose vials) contain low levels of thimerosal preservative (a mercury-containing preservative), the CDC still considers the vaccine safe for the fetus and mother. However, some vaccine preparations that are in single-dose vials will not have thimerosal preservative, so those pregnant individuals who are concerned about thimerosal can get this vaccine preparation when it is available.

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