Swine Flu Outbreak Continues
< Apr. 29, 2009 > -- The number of confirmed cases of swine flu, or H1N1 influenza, in the United States has increased to 64, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) late Tuesday morning.
In addition, the CDC has reported the first US death attributed to swine flu: a 23-month-old child in Texas is the first to succumb to the disease outside of Mexico.
According to the Associated Press, the epidemic had crossed new borders, with the first cases confirmed in the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region. Meanwhile, the number of deaths in Mexico - thought to be the source of the outbreak that continues to reach around the world - surpassed 150.
Until earlier today, Mexico was the only country to report deaths caused by this strain of flu. Cases in all other countries have been described as mild.
Experts Say Too Soon to Panic
Swine flu is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza. Swine flu does not normally infect humans. However, human infections do occur, usually after exposure to pigs. Symptoms resemble those of the regular flu, including sore throat, coughing, and fever. The strain of swine flu circulating in North America appears to be a combination of pig, bird, and human flu strains, experts say.
Experts in influenza and infectious disease caution that the exact level of danger from the virus is still unknown.
"This is something of concern [but] I think we should hold back on calling it a real threat," says David Topham, Ph.D., co-director of the New York Influenza Center of Excellence, part of the University of Rochester Medical Center. "We always have to take these things seriously, but we have a very good system in place to respond."
Another expert agrees.
"The gravity of the situation will not be clear for a few more days till we find the extent of the cases and the number of countries involved ...," says Dr. Scott R. Lillibridge, a professor with the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health in Houston and executive director of the university's National Center for Emergency Medical Preparedness and Response.
The real verdict on just how dangerous this outbreak might be will hinge at least partly on seeing how the disease spreads in the United States, along with expected announcements from the World Health Organization (WHO) as to how many other countries are affected, the experts say.
More Questions to Answer
Among the questions to be answered about this flu outbreak are: Why is the virus causing more severe illness in Mexico than in the United States? Why is mortality concentrated among young, healthy adults? Will the swine flu acquire more lethality as time goes on? And will the virus have a seasonality to it, like the "regular" flu?
There are no concrete answers to these questions yet - but there are some intriguing possibilities.
To put things into perspective, even with the death toll in Mexico, the swine flu does not appear to be as dangerous as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which appeared seemingly out of nowhere in 2003.
"SARS had high human-to-human transmission, there was a high death rate and no treatment," notes Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. With the swine flu outbreak, "we're not talking about anything like that," he says.
Steps for Protecting Yourself
For right now and for the next few days, the only people who need to worry about infection are those who have been in Mexico or those who have been around people who have visited that country, says Dr. Mark Metersky, a spokesman for the American College of Chest Physicians.
Experts say precautions against catching swine flu are similar to those recommended for the regular flu, including the following:
Always consult your physician for more information.
For more information on health and wellness, please visit health information modules on this Web site.
More About Swine Flu (H1N1 virus)
The following information comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
According to the CDC, swine Influenza (swine flu) is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza virus that regularly causes outbreaks of influenza in pigs. Swine flu viruses cause high levels of illness and low death rates in pigs. Swine influenza viruses may circulate among swine throughout the year, but most outbreaks occur during the late fall and winter months similar to outbreaks in humans.
The classical swine flu virus (an influenza type A H1N1 virus) was first isolated from a pig in 1930.
Although the CDC has determined that this swine influenza A (H1N1) virus is contagious and is spreading from human to human, at this time, it is not known how easily the virus spreads between people.
Like all influenza viruses, swine flu viruses change constantly. Pigs can be infected by avian influenza and human influenza viruses as well as swine influenza viruses. When influenza viruses from different species infect pigs, the viruses can reassort (i.e. swap genes) and new viruses that are a mix of swine, human and/or avian influenza viruses can emerge.
Over the years, different variations of swine flu viruses have emerged. At this time, there are four main influenza type A virus subtypes that have been isolated in pigs: H1N1, H1N2, H3N2, and H3N1. However, most of the recently isolated influenza viruses from pigs have been H1N1 viruses.
The symptoms of swine flu in people are similar to the symptoms of regular human flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting associated with swine flu.
In the past, severe illness (pneumonia and respiratory failure) and deaths have been reported with swine flu infection in people. Like seasonal flu, swine flu may cause a worsening of underlying chronic medical conditions.
Spread of the swine flu virus is thought to happen in the same way that seasonal flu spreads. Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing of people with influenza. Sometimes people may become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose.
Swine influenza viruses are not transmitted by food. You cannot get swine influenza from eating pork or pork products. Eating properly handled and cooked pork and pork products is safe. Cooking pork to an internal temperature of 160Ã‚Â°F kills the swine flu virus as it does other bacteria and viruses.
To prevent contracting swine flu, first and most important: wash your hands. Try to stay in good general health. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food. Try not touch surfaces that may be contaminated with the flu virus. Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Always consult your physician for more information.
(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)