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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Swine Flu Symptoms, Pandemics, and More

Swine Flu
(Swine Influenza A (H1N1) Virus)

What is the swine flu?

The swine influenza A (H1N1) virus that has infected humans in the U.S. and Mexico is a novel influenza A virus that has not previously been identified in North America. This virus is resistant to the antiviral medications amantadine (Symmetrel) and rimantadine (Flumadine), but is sensitive to oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza). Investigations of these cases suggest that on-going human-to-human swine influenza A (H1N1) virus is occurring.

What are the symptoms of swine flu?

Although uncomplicated influenza-like illness (fever, cough or sore throat) has been reported in many cases, mild respiratory illness (nasal congestion, rhinorrhea) without fever and occasional severe disease also has been reported. Other symptoms reported with swine influenza A virus infection include vomiting, diarrhea, myalgia, headache, chills, fatigue, and dyspnea. Conjunctivitis is rare, but has been reported. Severe disease (pneumonia, respiratory failure) and fatal outcomes have been reported with swine influenza A virus infection. The potential for exacerbation of underlying chronic medical conditions or invasive bacterial infection with swine influenza A virus infection should be considered.

What is a pandemic?

Heard the word "pandemic" tossed around during coverage of the swine flu outbreak? That term isn't just the "it" buzzword of the moment -- it has a specific meaning in public health circles.

Here's the official definition from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS): "A pandemic is a global disease outbreak. An influenza pandemic occurs when a new influenza [type] A virus emerges for which there is little or no immunity in the human population, begins to cause serious illness, and then spreads easily person-to-person worldwide."

Now, if swine flu sounds to you like a pandemic, it's not quite that simple.

The World Health Organization (WHO) today said there are "gaps in knowledge" about the new swine flu virus -- which actually contains a mix of swine, human, and bird (avian) flu viruses into a brand-new virus. The WHO has asked all countries to be on the lookout for the new virus, but it's not yet ready to bump up the pandemic alert level from phase 3 to phase 4.

Phase what? The WHO has a scale ranging from phase 1 (low risk of a flu pandemic) to phase 6 (a full-blown pandemic is underway). Right now, the WHO is considering whether to shift from phase 3 (which means there is no or very limited human-to-human transmission) to phase 4 (defined as evidence of human-to-human transmission).

You can get more information here and in wikipedia

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