Swine Flu (H1N1) Virus

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A unique strain of the influenza A H1N1 virus (swine flu) is being suspected as the killer of dozens of Mexicans in news last Sunday, April 26, 2009. This scare has caused their authorities to close public places like schools, museums, libraries and theaters.

It is a new virus with the capability to combine genetic material from pigs, birds and humans in a way that researchers have never seen before. It has also affected eight people in Texas and California as of the present time.

WHO is now on very close, hands-on watch on this virus since it is capable of human-to-human transmission. In Mexico it has affected more than 1,000 individuals and has led people to wear masks when in public places.

Authorities are concerned given how quickly the flu can spread around the globe. If this is how a pandemic starts then there might be cases already incubating in other countries. Concerns are based on the fact that hundreds of people travel in and out of Mexico daily that might led to unrecognized transmission.

As of the present time, no vaccine has been produced yet for such virus and there is no information how much protection the current human flu vaccine may offer.

Since very few information exist regarding this virus everybody should be aware of such news and apply precautions when necessary.

Basic information about the virus:

  • The H1N1 virus typically infects pigs causing respiratory symptoms.
  • The H1N1 flu viruses don't usually infect humans. There have been occasional cases, usually among people who've had direct contact with infected pigs, such as farm workers.
  • There have been cases of  the virus spreading from human to human, probably in the same way as seasonal flu, through coughing and sneezing by infected people.
  • The symptoms are similar to those of regular flu -- fever, cough, fatigue, lack of appetite.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the Mexican virus samples match the U.S. virus. The virus is a mix of human virus, bird virus from North America and pig viruses from North America, Europe and Asia.
  • There are four different drugs approved in the U.S. to treat the flu, but the new virus has shown resistance to the two oldest. The CDC recommends the use of the flu drugs Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and Zanamivir (Relenza).
  • The seasonal flu vaccine used in the U.S. this year won't likely provide protection against the latest swine flu virus. There is a swine flu vaccine for pigs but not for humans.
  • The CDC recommends routine precautions to prevent the spread of infectious diseases: wash your hands often, cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, avoid close contact with sick people. If you are sick, stay at home and limit contact with others.

Excerpt from Health Alert, a bulletin from the Infection Control Service, St. Luke's Medical Center.