Swine Flu

Written by Lydia Krause
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is Swine Flu?

Swine flu, also known as the H1N1 virus, made headlines in 2009 when it was declared a pandemic (Dandagi & Byahatti, 2011). Pandemics are contagious diseases affecting people throughout the world or on multiple continents at the same time. H1N1 has already been seen in 74 countries across the globe. (Dandagi & Byahatti, 2011).

H1N1 is highly contagious, allowing it to spread quickly from person to person. A simple sneeze may cause thousands of germs to spread through the air. The virus can linger on tables and surface areas like door knobs, waiting to be picked up.

The swine flu causes many symptoms similar to regular influenza. Diagnosis can be made by testing a swab of mucus from the nose or throat. For those who have swine flu, the oral drug Tamiflu is recommended.

Injection and nasal spray vaccinations are available to prevent swine flu. The best means of dealing with swine flu is to prevent it. Hand sanitization is important to stop the spread of the virus, and staying away from infected individuals will help stop person-to-person transmission.

Risk Factors for Swine Flu

Swine flu is unusual because it does not target the same age group as the rhinovirus (typical flu). The disease focuses on young adults. This is unusual because most flu viruses attack those who are elderly or very young. Some form of immunity to swine flu may exist in the elderly due to previous flu exposures.

Other risk factors for swine flu include:

  • compromised immune system (from a disease such as AIDS)
  • pregnancy
  • past history of infections

Cause of Swine Flu

The swine flu is caused by a strain of influenza virus that usually only infects pigs. Unlike typhus, which can be transmitted by lice or ticks, the main transmission is not from pigs to people, but rather from person to person.

Swine flu is very contagious. The disease is spread through saliva and mucus particles. People may spread them by:

  • sneezing
  • coughing
  • touching a germ-covered surface and then touching their eyes or nose

Symptoms of Swine Flu

The symptoms of swine flu are very much like those of regular influenza. They include:

  • chills
  • fever
  • coughing
  • sore throat

Diagnosing Swine Flu

A diagnosis is made by sampling fluid from those with swine flu. To take a sample, a doctor or nurse may take a swab of the nose or throat.

The swab will be analyzed using various genetic and laboratory techniques to identify the specific type of virus.

Treating Swine Flu

As of 2009, the CDC has recommended healthcare workers in contact with swine flu or suspected swine flu patients should take precautions. Precautions against infection include:

  • wearing gloves and/or gowns
  • using eye protection
  • wearing face masks

In known cases of swine flu, patients should be isolated to prevent the spread of H1N1.

During the swine flu pandemic, scientists were able to produce a vaccine. The vaccine may be given through an injection or nasal spray.

Side effects are minor and may include:

  • fever
  • aches
  • mild soreness at the injection site

The oral drug (Tamiflu) is the current recommended medication for swine flu. Oseltamivir, whose trade name is Tamiflu, is an antiviral drug used to treat influenza infections. This drug, or sometimes zanamivir (Relenza), aren’t used as a preventive measure for swine flu, but are used as treatment if someone has been exposed in the last 48 hours to swine flu, or is suspected of having swine flu. The vaccine is a preventive measure.

Outlook for Swine Flu

Severe cases of swine flu can be fatal. Most fatal cases are in those with underlying conditions, such as HIV/AIDS. The majority of people with swine flu recover and can anticipate a normal life expectancy.

Preventing Swine Flu

Easy ways to prevent swine flu (in addition to being vaccinated) include:

  • washing hands frequently with soap or hand sanitizer
  • not touching your nose, mouth, or eyes because the virus can survive on telephones, tabletops, etc.
  • staying home from work or school if you are ill to keep others healthy
  • avoiding large gatherings when swine flu is in season. Flu season shifts a little bit from year to year, but in the United States it generally peaks in January, although it often starts in October and runs until as late as May. It is possible to get the flu year-round.
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Show Sources

  • Arora, R. et al. (2011). Potential of complementary and alternative medicine in preventive management of novel H1N1 flu (swine flu) pandemic: Thwarting potential disasters in the bud. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 586506.
  • Dandagi, G. L. & Byahatti S. M. (2011). An insight into the swine-influenza A (H1N1) virus infection in humans. Lung India. 28(1), 34-38.
  • H1N1 flu. (2009, November 17). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved July 24, 2012, from http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/antiviral.htm
  • Oseltamavir. (2012, January 15). PubMed Health. Retrieved July 24, 2012, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001054/
  • Seasonal influenza. (2012, June 14). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved July 24, 2012, from http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season-2012-2013.htm#expected

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