When most people hear the word H1N1, swine flu immediately comes to mind, and while swine flu is a type of H1N1, it is not what H1N1 actually is. While many people think of the flu as one simple disease, it is actually three distinct groups of diseases, Influenza A, Influenza B, and Influenza C. Within those groups are subgroups, identified by their antigens, therefore H1N1 is a distinct type of Influenza, containing both a type 1 H antigen, and a type 1 N antigen.
But what do all these viruses and subtypes actually mean to people? Well it means that H1N1 and its various strains, only cause a fraction of any influenza illnesses. That isn’t to say H1N1 in certain strains isn’t extremely dangerous, it is. The H1N1 virus, includes various strains of both swine and avian flu. This means that H1N1 is both common in birds and pigs, though transmission from animal to human is extremely rare, and when this does not happen it does not always result in the flu. Another reason for this rarity, is that eating infected meat poses no threat to humans. Even when a human does catch H1N1 from an animal, it is extremely rare for that human to then pass on the infection to another human.
Although H1N1 is not commonly transmitted or spread, there are two main exceptions to this rule throughout history. The first time this happened was in 1918, during World War 1, millions of different people came into contact with each other, spreading an extremely deadly version of H1N1. It is not known exactly where this version of H1N1 came from, but is known that it was a severely mutated strain of common avian flu. This version of the flu caused an immune system reaction called a cytokine storm, which caused the immune system to overreact to viruses and destroy the body. Estimates of the damage caused by this pandemic vary widely, however the general consensus is that it infected 1/3 of the worlds population, and killed 3% of it.
The other outbreak of H1N1 that caused a lot of damage, was the recent swine flu outbreak. It is thought that this outbreak of swine flu, originated in pig farms in Veracruz Mexico, and quickly spread throughout the region. Due to traveling, this strain then reached the United States, and from there every other corner of the world. Due to this strains virulence, it infected many people throughout the world, killing at least ten thousand . Scientists found that this strain of H1N1, was actually a mutation caused by interactions of four distinct diseases.
To sum it up, H1N1 is a disease extremely common in both birds and pigs. It is one of the many types of different flu strains throughout the world, and can be transferred very easily within these populations. Because of the fact that H1N1 rarely touches the human population, most of the time it is a simple disease that causes no damage. Though H1N1 is a rare occurrence within humans, the few strains that do infect humans are extremely virulent and deadly.