Swine influenza (swine flu)
The history of swine flu
Swine flu is a new influenza virus that was first discovered in the spring of 2009, to the immediate fright of epidemiologists, health personel and also the general public. The reason was that many remembered the year 1918, when a similar type of influenza virus that spread among soldiers returning from the battlefields of the First World War. In that case, over 20 million people died within six months. So, public fear was justified. Although, why is this influenza virus called swine influenza? Originally, this virus infected only swine and it quickly spread through factory pig farms in the USA, Canada, Mexico, South America, Europe, Africa (particularly Kenya), Taiwan, China and Japan. In effect, it was a worldwide infection of swine which originally was not transmittable to humans. Although the virus jumped to humans only a few years later.
The origin of swine flu
Swine flu is an illness that affects the respiratory system of pigs; it is caused by the influenza virus type A. This new type of influenza virus appeared between March and April of 2009 in Southern California and Texas. It is transmissible among swine but also to humans. Therefore, it is called swine flu because it originated among swine, but this virus also contains genes from birds and humans. Later on, more cases appeared in different states within the USA and also in Mexico, where the virus was re-named the Mexican virus. Thanks to the internet and modern communication methods, the general public was quickly informed about the possibility of a pandemic (a wide-spread epidemic that includes more continents). It was feared that the events that took place in year 1918 might be repeated.
The head of the health department of the Concil of Europe, Wolfgang Wodarg, stated that the annoncement of a swine flu pandemic was false. Wodarg pointed out that pharmaceutical companies were making enormous amounts of money through the sale of vaccinations and medications. At the same time, the mortality rate from swine flu in developed countries was not high. In the USA, it was reported that from among 50 million people infected with swine flu, there were ten thousand deaths. So there was one death for every 5000 infected with H1N1. This is a mortality rate of 0.02%
Transmisson of swine flu
The swine flu virus is transmitted to humans after direct contact with infected animals and/or their immediate surroundings. Even though transmission of the virus from animals to humans is quite rare, there were a few cases where ill individuals had not come into contact with any animals at all. This indicates that the virus can be transmitted from person to person. This is supported by the fact that the virus contains genes from pig, bird and human influenzas. Transmission of swine flu from the consumption of pork is unlikely, as the virus is inactivated during cooking at a temperature of 70ºC or more.
Swine flu symptoms
The symptoms of swine flu do not differ much from those of classical influenza, which includes fever, headache, back-pain and muscle pain. The virus is transmitted through the air, mainly due to coughing and sneezing. Treatment is similar to that of the common flu. Antiviral therapy can help to alleviate the symptoms. Antivirals decrease the ability of the virus to replicate. The most important preventative measure against infection is hand-washing, especially before meal times. It is also important to stay healthy, eat properly, sleep well and stay away from stressful situations. In 2009, swine flu was a worldwide phenomenon, which ended as quickly as it had begun.
Treatment of swine flu
Treatment of swine flu, similarily to classical influenza, is based on the suppression of symptoms, for example fever reduction, alleviation of sore throat, and clearing of nasal passages. Most infected individuals will regain their health within 7-10 days and most often without antiviral medications. Antivirals are useful only when they are prescribed within 48 hours of the first appearane of symptoms, but can also be used as prevention or treatment of at-risk patients. Swine flu can be treated with antivirals such as oseltamivir and zanamivir, but is resistant to amantidin and rimantidin. WHO does not recommend prescribing antivirals to all infected individuals but on a case by case basis.
Incidence of swine flu in the Czech Republic
The swine flu virus was spread to the Czech Republic by individuals travelling from the USA and Mexico. These infected individuals were carefully monitored by health professionals. Several people died from complications arising from the infection which increased public awareness of the problem. There were large-scale vaccinations and infected individuals were quarantined, in order to decrease the risk of spreading the infection further.