April 27, 2009

Understanding Swine Flu

Confirmed Cases
As of Sunday, officials had confirmed 20 cases of a new A(H1N1) swine flu virus in the United States, including eight New York City high school students. Six cases were identified in Canada — all linked to travel in Mexico. While only a handful of swine flu cases in Mexico have been confirmed, officials say there are at least 1,400suspected infections and at least 86 suspected deaths.

Swine flu and humans
Swine flu viruses can be passed between pigs and humans, but human infections are not common. Most infections occur among people with direct pig contact. Sometimes a flu virus can mutate to be more transmissible to humans. An outbreak occurred among soldiers in Fort Dix, N.J., in 1976, resulting in 200 infections, several serious illnesses and one death.
Human symptoms
All flus are passed by coughs and sneezes. Symptoms can included fever, fatigue, coughing, vomiting and diarrhea. Seasonal flus typically kill the old and young. New flus like this one can kill healthy people whose own immune reactions overwhelm them.
Vaccine and treatments
Officials do not know if the seasonal flu vaccine will protect against the A(H1N1) swine flu virus. In the laboratory, the antiviral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza are effective against this new flu; amantadine and rimantadine are not.
Swine flu versus avian flu
The avian flu, A(H5N1), is found among birds and humans and is highly lethal but not very transmissible. Scientists believe this new flu is more transmissible but less lethal.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing hands frequently, avoiding touching the face, covering the nose and mouth when sneezing and staying home when sick. People cannot be infected by eating pork.

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