Swine flu --causes, diagnosis, treatment and preventionFive years after the pandemic of swine flu in 2009, the world still faces deadly consequences of the illness. This year’s first death case due to swine flu in India was recently reported. The patient was diagnosed with swine flu on May 13, 2014. He was from Kota, Rajasthan and was undergoing treatment at a private hospital.

The number of reported swine flu cases this year might not be as high as the previous ones for now, but this case definitely creates an alarming situation. Clearly, we need to understand the disease in a better way to prevent more number of deaths due to the illness.

Causes and risk factors of swine flu

Swine flu is a respiratory illness caused by the swine influenza virus (SIV). The pandemic of swine flu was caused by the SIV sub type H1N1. But other subtypes H1N2, H1N3, H3N1, H3N2 and H2N3 can also cause the illness. The virus was termed H1N1 because it mainly exhibited two types of antigens hemagglutinin 1 and neuraminidase 1.

The illness is originally known to affect pigs. It is known to have spread to humans who came in direct contact with pigs. However, the new virus or the mutated type of virus that has emerged over the years has the ability to affect humans without direct contact with pigs. The virus is transmitted from person to person through the same medium as other flu viruses. A healthy person may acquire the infection by inhaling droplets expelled by the infected person while coughing or sneezing or by contacting surfaces infected with the virus. The virus is not transmitted directly by eating cooked pork.

Since swine flu can directly be transmitted from one person to another through air droplets, people who fail to follow proper hygiene, especially in crowded places are at a high risk of contracting the virus. But, according to observations, there are specific groups of individuals that have been the most affected by the illness. The group at a high risk includes:

  • Individuals having any other respiratory condition like pneumonia
  • Pregnant women
  • People suffering from chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes
  • People more than 65 years of age and children younger than 2 years

These risk groups have been identified based on observation and doesn’t imply that you have swine flu if you have flu like symptoms and belong to any of the above risk groups. But, you should seek necessary medical care if you have flu symptoms.

Symptoms of swine flu

Most of the symptoms of swine flu are quite similar to regular influenza. Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Diarrhea
  • Cough
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Block nasal passage
  • Fatigue

Diagnosis of swine flu

Diagnosis of swine flu influenza A infection is done by laboratory analysis. If you have flu like symptoms, your respiratory specimen will be collected, preferably within 4 to 5 days of visible symptoms. A real time PCR test is done where the viral genetic material is identified.

Treatment and prevention of swine flu

Once the patient is tested positive for swine flu, treatment needs to be initiated immediately. According to the National Institute of Communicable Disease (NICD), swine flu can be completely treated if it is diagnosed at a very early stage. The anti‐viral medicines oseltamivir (Tamiflu/Fluvir) and zanamivir (Relenza) are given to diagnosed patients. Oseltamivir is given to in adults as well as to children below the age of 1 year. As per NICD, the medicine should be administered within 48 hours of the first symptom. The drugs work by inhibiting the ability of virus to release progeny virus particles. 

Prevention of swine flu

Just like other influenza viruses, H1N1 infection can be prevented by practicing basic hygiene. Here are some tips to prevent swine flu:

  • Wear a proper surgical mask during flu season because the number of cases shoots up during the summers and monsoon seasons.
  • Always cover your face while coughing or sneezing. Ensure others around you also follow the same practice, especially if they’re down with cold.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth too often
  • Always wash your hands before and after eating and particularly after returning from a public place.
  • Remember the virus can also spread through droplets that have settled on surfaces so avoid touching them if you’re around a person who has flu like symptoms.
  • Avoid visiting unhygienic places or using public restrooms.
  • If you’re in a city/area is swine-flu endemic, wear a standard swine flu mask while going out in public places (the H-95 mask which is worn by nurses and doctors while collecting samples from swine flu victims). Normal surgical masks which sell like hot cakes during swine flu season might not give enough protection.
  • If you develop flu like symptoms or even feel sick, stay at home and take enough rest. Keeping away from others to prevent the spread of the infection.
  • Drinking lots of warm water and fluids wash off the virus into the stomach where they cannot survive.

Vaccination

Vaccination is the best way to prevent swine flu. Currently, H1N1 vaccines including Influvac, Agrippal, Vaxigrip, Vaxiflu-S and Fluarix are available in the market. The vaccine is injectable and costs around Rs.600-700 per dose. Doctors advise people to get a repeat vaccine dose every year for effective prevention of swine flu.

 References:

  • Chauhan N et al. Laboratory diagnosis of swine flu: a review.

  • Mehta AA et al Clinical Profile of Patients Admitted with Swine-Origin Influenza A (H1N1) Virus Infection: An Experience from A Tertiary Care Hospital.

  • Swine Flu (www.webmd.com)

Read more about causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of swine flu.

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