Swine flu is a type of Influenza Type A that normally infects only pigs. Infected pigs rarely develop severe disease, although severe outbreaks can kill 1-4% of infected animals. Because pigs can be infected with influenza type A viruses common to humans and birds as well as pigs, they are effective petri dishes for the production of new type A strains.
When swine flu genes and human flu genes combine in such a way as to allow infection of humans, we see swine flu cases in humans. Typically the virus is transmitted from pigs to humans, cannot be transmitted between humans, and rarely causes serious disease. Prior to Spring 2009, the last death from swine flu in the US was a Wisconsin woman in 1988.
Sometimes, however, the virus mutates in such a way that it is able to pass from human to human. When this happens, clusters of cases may arise, fueling fears of a pandemic. This is what has occurred with the 2009 novel H1N1 swine flu virus.
In general, swine flu signs and symptoms are the same as seasonal flu signs and symptoms. The most commonly reported symptoms associated with the novel H1N1 swine flu are:
* muscle aches
In addition, some people infected with the novel H1N1 swine flu virus have experienced:
* sore throat
Many people have also reported that the novel H1N1 swine flu symptoms appear milder than the usual seasonal flu symptoms.
Officials are unsure who the high-risk groups are for this novel flu strain, but it’s likely they are the same as for seasonal flu. That would include very young children (under 5), pregnant women, people age 65 or older and anyone with a chronic medical condition. These people, and their caregivers, should monitor any unusual symptoms to ensure they do not worsen.
In addition, many different viruses can cause the same symptoms, including ones completely unrelated to the flu, so it is important to be vigilant during the onset of symptoms. Call a doctor if symptoms do not improve or improve and then worsen again.
As scientists have studied this novel H1N1 swine flu virus, they have determined that it is, in fact, more similar to seasonal flu than to swine flu. As a result, unless the virus mutates further, it is safe to treat it as you would seasonal flu. Officials will continue to monitor outbreaks and test the virus to determine how it may be changing. In the meantime, follow common-sense precautions and treatments to make it through this unusually late flu outbreak.