A comparison of the current swine flu outbreak to the annual seasonal flu shows many similarities and a few important differences. The many strains of the influenza virus produce the same symptoms and the same effects, as a general rule, but certain strains such as Swine Flu do behave slightly differently.
Seasonal influenza and the Swine Flu share a great many symptoms. They produce fever, lung congestion and cough, a stuffy or runny nose, body aches and extreme fatigue. Influenza is a “whole body” illness, unlike the common cold which affects the upper respiratory system alone.
Because influenza affects the entire body, many people with a variety of medical conditions are at risk for additional complications. Diabetics, people with heart disease and people with weak immune systems due to cancer or HIV disease fall into that category. Even healthy people should not underestimate the toll that an influenza infection takes on their body and its immune system.
Seasonal influenza is any one of a number of influenza strains that appear on a regular basis each year. In the Northern Hemisphere, October to March is the typical time for seasonal flu to appear. In the Southern Hemisphere it appears from March to September. These are the months in which typical influenza cases peak, although it is possible to catch the flu at any point in the year.
Seasonal influenza cases also are higher in certain age groups, over 65 and under 4 being the most at risk for infection. It also affects people with pre-existing medical conditions in greater numbers.
Swine Flu is behaving differently. While we are very early in the course of the swine flu pandemic, it appears that there are several significant differences between seasonal influenza and the Swine Flu.
Swine Flu first appeared in early April of 2009 and the outbreak has continued since that time. This is a big difference from seasonal flu, which was dying out at the time that Swine Flu cases were rapidly increasing in the Northern Hemisphere.
In the Southern Hemisphere, seasonal flu would normally be the primary influenza strain seen at this time. Instead, Swine Flu infections are the vast majority of the cases being seen by medical professionals.
The spread of Swine Flu during a normally “flu free” time of year is just one difference with seasonal flu. A second, and more serious difference, is the age groups involved.
At this point in the pandemic, very few cases of Swine Flu have been recorded in people over the age of 50. Many localities are reporting median ages for their cases at 18 or even 16, meaning that half the cases are younger than that age. This is extremely unusual.
Two other groups of people appear to be susceptible to Swine Flu in unusual numbers. The medical community is exploring the high numbers of pregnant women with the Swine Flu. In addition, public health experts are concerned about an apparent statistical link between obesity and complications from Swine Flu. Neither group has been proved to clearly be at risk but concerns have been raised and are being investigated.
There are reports that adults with the Swine Flu have gastric symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea in unusual numbers. Gastric symptoms are seen in children with the seasonal flu.
The major differences found when comparing the current outbreak of Swine Flu and the seasonal flu are the time of year, and the ages of those infected. The threat to pregnant women, the obese and the appearance of gastric symptoms in adults are being investigated and also are of concern.
For additional accurate and up to date information, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a website for Swine Flu and for Influenza in general. The World Health Organization (WHO) has a website for Swine Flu.