Swine Flu: FAQ from Harvard Medical School

There has been a recent deluge of news about the swine flu outbreak that has been suggested that it could become a global pandemic.  As of April 26, 2009, the United States has declared a public health emergency as suspected and confirmed cases are being reported on the media.  Take care you yourself and your loved ones, the Harvard Medical School published a set of FAQs for the public to know.  Here is an excerpt of this special FAQ. 

Swine flu and bird flu

Flu is a common disease caused by the influenza virus.  Many animals can be infected with influenza viruses from birds, pigs, and even human beings.  It is expected that each species has a unique viral strain, which is why it is typical that influenza can only infect one species.  In the case of pigs, they are not only infected with their own strain of flu, but also with human and bird influenza viruses as well.  These viruses could meet up with one another and swap genes, creating new strains of swine flu influenza that have genes from human, pig, and bird viruses.  This is what happened to this new swine flu virus.

Is the swine flu virus dangerous?

Typically, swine flu is hard to pass from one human to another.  However, the latest strain of the flu contains modified genes that cause the virus to spread rapidly among humans, thus creating a more severe illness.  Another reason why this illness has become severe is because this virus strain is very new that people have little or no immunity to them.

Can this swine flu be transmitted from person to person?

Unfortunately, yes.  It is unclear how easily it is transmitted nor how it is transmitted, but health experts seem to agree that it surely transmitted through the usual means like sneezing, coughing, and by skin-to-skin contact such as shaking hands or kissing with an infected person.

How sick do people get from the virus?

There were reports of the illness in both the United States and Mexico, where it is said to be the origin of the new swine flu strain.  While almost all of the cases in the U.S. have recovered, patients in Mexico seem to have kept getting sicker and eventually died.  Experts are puzzled why the infection appears to be worse in Mexico than in the United States.

Are there treatments that can fight off swine flu?

As of now, this new strain of swine flu can be eradicated by two antiviral medicines:  oseltamivir and zanamivir.  These medicines are readily available and sufficient enough, therefore there is no need to overstock.  Treatment would be most effective if given within two days on the onset of symptoms.  However, taking these medicines before symptoms even appear may cause the virus to become drug-resistant, which can become worse.

To purchase a full special report from the Harvard Health Publications, click here.