Monday, April 27, 2009

Swine Flu Q & A

Please pardon this goofy graphic "swine flew"... what follows is a serious Q & A about Swine flu. I work in the travel industry, so I am bracing myself for people in  an absolute panic about going to Mexico & hoping the corporation allows us to let people change travel plans w/o penalty. 

Bloomberg posted this Q & A about Swine Flu-

Q: What is swine flu? A: Influenza is a virus that infects people, birds, pigs and other animals such as ferrets. Swine flu, or swine influenza, is a form of the virus that normally infects pigs. There are many forms of flu, and the different varieties have the ability to exchange genes with one another. The form of flu that originated in Mexico is a genetic mixture of viruses that have been seen in pigs, birds and people. It’s being called a swine flu because the overall structure of the virus is of the type that affects pigs, said Keiji Fukuda, a WHO official.

Q: What are the symptoms of swine flu? A: About one to four days usually elapse between the time a person is infected and the onset of symptoms. Influenza normally causes symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, headaches and body aches, fever, chills, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. Swine flu causes the same symptoms, and may be difficult to distinguish from other strains of flu and respiratory illnesses. Severe cases of flu that lead to death are normally seen in very young and very old people whose immune systems are too weak to fight off the virus. Adults with severe illness may also have difficulty breathing, dizziness, confusion, or severe vomiting and diarrhea.

Q: Why are health officials concerned about the outbreak of swine flu? A: When flu viruses mix their genes with one another, they can take on new forms. New flu viruses are harder for the immune system to defend against. With little or no opposition from the immune system, they can grow quickly and invade many tissues and organs. They may also set off a harmful immune overreaction in the body, called a “cytokine storm,” that may be lethal in itself. The swine flu virus from Mexico may have the ability to spread quickly and kill people, possibly causing a worldwide pandemic, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers are conducting studies right now to determine how easily the virus spreads in people and how dangerous it is.

Q: What’s a flu pandemic? A: Flu pandemics occur when new influenza viruses emerge that spread quickly and few people have immunity to them. While influenza viruses were only discovered about a century ago, researchers believe flu pandemics hit about twice or three times each century. Some pandemics are relatively mild, killing just a few million people globally. The most severe flu pandemic on record was the 1918 Spanish Flu, and researchers estimate it killed about 50 million people around the world.

Q: Is there a vaccine against the swine flu from Mexico? A: Flu vaccines generally contain a dead or weakened form of a circulating virus. The vaccine prepares the body’s immune system to fend off a true infection. For the vaccine to work, it must match the circulating, “wild-type” virus relatively closely. There is no vaccine currently that exactly matches the swine flu. However, if the virus is sufficiently similar to circulating forms of H1N1 flu that are included in current vaccines, they may offer some limited protection from swine flu. While U.S. health officials are investigating this, the possibilities for this protection are poor, they said yesterday on a telephone call.

In addition, millions of people in the U.S. were vaccinated against swine flu in 1976. While that was not the same strain of flu as the one from Mexico, people who got the 1976 vaccine may get some limited protection from the currently circulating virus. Health officials may do some research on this issue as well.

Vaccine makers have contacted the World Health Organization about obtaining samples of the virus needed to make a vaccine. Making flu vaccine can take three to six months, depending on the type of manufacturing used.

Q: Are there drugs that treat swine flu? A: Roche Holding AG’s Tamiflu and GlaxoSmithKline Plc’s Relenza both have activity against swine flu. The U.S. has released its stockpile of Tamiflu to treat people with swine flu. Flu viruses sometimes develop resistance to antiviral drugs. The human form of H1N1 that’s currently circulating is resistant to Roche’s Tamiflu (not Relenza). If the two viruses were to exchange genes, the swine flu might become resistant, too.

Q: How else can I protect myself from swine flu? A: Personal hygiene measures, such as avoiding people who are coughing or sneezing and frequent hand-washing, may prevent flu infection. Those who aren’t health professionals should avoid contact with sick people, or those who are coughing or sneezing. People who get sick with flu symptoms should stay home. Studies have suggested that closing schools, theaters, and canceling gatherings in the early stages of a pandemic can limit its spread. Such measures would likely take place if health officials determine that the virus is spreading quickly enough and is deadly enough to cause a pandemic.

So there you have it. Or should I say I hope none of us has it & this is curbed & curtailed, or many people have some kind of immunity is circulating that will make the majority who are exposed experience it as a flu & not a deadly flu. I think the precautions Europe has advised- only visit Mexico & the US if it is necessary, and the ban on meat exports, are wise ideas. Since they don't really know the source right now, these simple measures are reasonable steps while they try to figure it out.


enigma4ever said...

I have been trying to post as much as I can find out- but I too am confused- but confused enough that I am trying determine what the HELL this flu is and HOW it got so out of control...

Dr.Gupta reporting from Mexico- for CNN and CBS looks very very worried- I have not seen that look on his face since Katrina.....which to me says it is a mess.

I think the best we can do is take proactive protective measures- as a country- we are close enough to Mexico- that I fully understand why the EU would issue warnings....the 1918 Epidemic was in many ways caused by all the travel and movement of troops after/during WWI....

The best we can do is be careful and be your job I have no idea what you are to do...I did see that travel to Mexico is being discouraged ....but it seems like the Travel industry does need to be given guidance...

Fran said...

I just finished writing a post about how things went at work.
I don't want to panic, but the numbers sent from 81 deaths in Mexico to 149 & US confirmed cases from 20 to 40 in a day.

Clearly, this is a highly contagious, volatile virus.