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The deadly swine flu that first struck in Mexico has now made its way into the United States. Like humans, pigs too, can contract the influenza virus, though the virus that strikes humans differs from the one that infects the swine population.

While it is rare for swine flu to present in humans, it has happened among those who are in direct contact with pigs.  The most current outbreak of swine flu is caused by a new strain of the virus that allows it to be transmitted from person-to-person, and spread to people who have had no direct contact with the pig population.

Groups at High Risk for Contracting Swine Flu

Swine flu can be contracted by anyone, however, certain groups of individuals are at high risk and can experience complications as a result of swine flu.  Groups at higher risk include the following:

  1. People aged 65 years or older
  2. Those with chronic health conditions such as asthma, heart disease, HIV, diabetes, etc. (any condition that causes one to have a compromised immune system)
  3. Pregnant women
  4. Small children (children under 1 year of age in particular)

Possible complications for people in the high-risk category:

  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchitis
  • Ear infections
  • Sinus infections
  • Death

Symptoms of Swine Flu and How it is Diagnosed

The symptoms of swine flu are much the same as experienced with any type of flu virus.  The most common symptoms are fever, coughing, sore throat, body aches, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and fatigue.  Because these symptoms can be linked to several other conditions, it is impossible to diagnose swine flu based on observation alone.

To make an accurate diagnosis of swine flu, a physician will need to order a series of laboratory tests to confirm the condition.  The secretions from the mouth and nose must be clinically examined for 24-72 hours after symptoms first present.  The Center for Disease Control (CDC ) will examine a blood sample from the patient to detect the presence of the influenza virus and confirm a diagnosis of swine flu.

How is Swine Flu Treated?

The newly discovered strain of swine influenza exhibits sensitivity to antiviral drugs and there are four different types of medications used to treat/prevent influenza: amantadine, rimantadine, oseltamivir and zanamivir.   However, the most recent strains of swine flu that have been isolated in humans is resistant to amantadine and rimantadine.

The Center for Disease Control recommends antiviral medications in the treatment and prevention of the swine flu.  It is recommended that people with swine flu take Tamiflu® (oseltamivir) or Relenza® (zanamivir) to treat or prevent the most recent strains of swine flu.  The medications are most effective when taken within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms.

However, not everyone will need these medications, because many of the people who were first diagnosed in America with swine flu recovered without receiving treatment.  As a result of the most recent outbreak of swine flu in the United States, the Department of Homeland Security has released some 25% of its Relenza® and Tamiflu® stockpile to states. 

Swine Flu Vaccine

While there is currently no vaccine available for the prevention of the H1N1 virus that causes swine flu, the country of Taiwan is planning to mass produce at least 200,000 doses of new vaccines against the virus.  On April 27th, 2009, Taiwanese Health Minister Yeh Chin-chuan announced that the National Health Research Institutes (NHRI) is acquiring a sample of the swine virus from the United States.

The head of the Taiwan Center for Disease Control stated that one the sample is obtained, the government will begin the vaccine-manufacturing process.  It is estimated it may take up to 3 months to produce the 200,000 doses promised.  The first doses would be used by health care practitioners and officials conducting temperature checks on people at the airport.

Rather than using the traditional chicken eggs for the vaccine medium, researchers are going to use new cellular-based technology to cultivate the vaccine. 

For now, the worlds leading drug manufacturers are researching all the various information obtained by the CDC, and studying all the production options available.

Does a Flu Vaccine Protect Against the Swine Flu?

The previous flu vaccinations that people received for the season, unfortunately, offer no additional protection against the swine flu.  The vaccinations were not formulated with the swine flu virus taken into consideration.

If a person was vaccinated against the influenza virus last fall or winter, the vaccination only offers protection against certain forms of human influenza, and provides no added protection against the swine flu. 

Prevention of the Swine Flu

While treatment of swine flu is essential to recovery, people should also know how to stop the transmission of the virus, which will decrease chances of the disease being spread.  The following is a list of steps to aid in the prevention of swine flu:
  • When sneezing people should cover the mouth and nose with a disposable tissue and dispose of the tissue in the proper waste receptacle
  • Avoid having contact will people who are ill (with flu-like symptoms)
  • Avoid the urge to touch the mouth, nose and eyes (if in contact with a contaminated surface, the virus can be spread via the mucous membranes in this manner)
  • Staying home during the onset and period of flu-like illness
  • Use common hand washing techniques using warm, soapy water and a disposable paper towel, and using alcohol-based hand sanitizers if soap and water are not available
  • Having disposable tissues available in common household areas such as the kitchen, living room and bathroom
  • Pursuing medical intervention and treatment at the earliest possible time of symptom onset
  • Use of masks when in contact with others who have flu symptoms or are ill
  • Maintain a 3-6 foot radius around sick people who are coughing
  • The best way to prevent an illness is to become educated (reading literature, observing proper precautions and seeking treatment are all important parts of prevention)

Swine Flu Overview

While the swine influenza strains that have hit the United States are not as deadly as the strains experienced in Mexico, health officials are taking no chances.  Because the swine flu outbreak is a rapidly developing story, it will take time and more investigation to figure out the global effects of the disease.  Researches will have to discover the point of origin, how it came to be transmitted to humans and how the virus was able to mutate.

Whether the swine flu remains localized and the outbreak can be contained has yet to be determined. However, it does prove how important it is to closely monitor strains of influenza, because it can determine whether or not an emergent strain ends up going global or if it can be treated and/or prevented.