Contributed by- Dr. Snehal Singh
Swine flu (H1N1) is a viral infection that has taken the face of a pandemic since few years. It is a contagious infection, which easily spreads like common flu and has similar symptoms as well but can take a dangerous turn, in some cases. Swine flu commonly spreads during the flu season but its cases are reported at other times too. Effective diagnostic methods and treatments of swine flu are available. Knowing about the spread and symptoms of swine flu can help to seek timely treatment.
Causes And Spread Of Swine Flu
Swine flu infection is caused by the H1N1 virus and is also called H1N1 flu. Though the common myth surrounding it that it spreads by eating pork, but this is not true. Rather, it spreads from an infected person to a healthy person. Those who are continuously exposed to people infected with swine flu are at greater risk. People with reduced immunity are at greater risk.The virus spreads easily in crowded areas and in places with large groups. Hence, swine flu can potentially spread in schools, day-cares, hostels, health care centres or other places where people come in close contact.
Swine flu spreads through droplet infection, which means the virus spreads through mucus or saliva of an infected person. An infected person can spread swine flu by sneezing, coughing or by touching objects with infected secretions. You can catch infection when you are exposed to virus particles in the air or when you come in contact with such infected surfaces. Simple objects of common use like door handles, desks, books, taps, utensils, etc. can contribute to the spread.
People who are at greater risk of swine flu include
- Younger children, elderly adults and pregnant women
- People who have reduced immunity, due to illnesses or certain medications
- People having diabetes, heart diseases or asthma
Symptoms Of Swine Flu
It usually takes about one to three days after the exposure to the H1N1 virus to show swine flu symptoms.
Swine flu shows symptoms similar to common flu. The commonest symptoms of swine flu include a sore throat, cough, sneezing, running nose and watery, itchy eyes, which may or may not be associated with fever. People with swine flu may experience headaches, body pain, joint pains and fatigue. Some people may also notice gastric symptoms like nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting or diarrhoea.
Warning symptoms of swine flu, which may indicate the risk of complications include
- Chest congestion, pneumonia or respiratory failure
- Worsening of existing medical illnesses, asthma or heart diseases
- Fainting, confusion, seizures or neurological problems.
Diagnostic Tests For Swine Flu
A rapid flu test can be done to evaluate the symptoms of swine flu. However, the most accurate test that helps in diagnosis of swine flu is the laboratory swab test. In this, a swab from the nose and back of the throat is taken, which detects the presence of the virus. Additional investigations like blood tests, chest x-ray and others may be done, if found appropriate.
Treatment Of Swine Flu
In most cases, which are self-limiting, only rest may be helpful. But for cases, which may need aggressive treatment of swine flu, hospitalization is considered. Swine flu treatment may be aimed at relieving symptoms and reducing pain and fever. Specific treatment is mainly considered for people who have severe symptoms, are hospitalized or those who are at risk of complications. The most commonly used swine flu treatment includes antiviral drugs, as prescribed by the treating doctor.
Swine flu needs to be managed with plenty of rest to allow the body to fight the infection. Symptomatic relief helps to reduce symptoms and increased intake of fluids can help to maintain hydration.
How To Prevent Swine Flu?
Swine flu, although a contagious infection, can be prevented with appropriate measures. Listed below are few effective swine flu prevention methods:
- Make sure you maintain high personal hygiene standards, like covering nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing. Avoid touching objects of common use.
- Practice proper hand washing and wash hands thoroughly with soap and water. Clean hands, especially when in public places, before and after handling food and after using washrooms. Use alcohol-based sanitizers to ensure clean hands, if water is unavailable.
- Avoid crowded areas, if possible or use face masks for children and people with greater risk.
If a person is suffering from swine flu, make sure that limited people are exposed to the person. It is better to keep specific personal objects of use and clean them separately, to avoid spreading the virus to others.
As vaccination is available, yearly flu shots, for children and adults is a recommended swine flu prevention method. This is especially beneficial for people who have increased risk of infection or when there are more cases noted in an area.
Though swine flu is a viral infection and it spreads just like common flu and may be difficult to differentiate, awareness of its symptoms and warning signs and alertness is the best approach to prevent swine flu. As the complications of swine flu can be fatal, prompt medical attention is needed. Diagnostic tests and advanced treatment have made it possible to fight this infection effectively. It is also important to know that preventive measures and vaccination too can help prevent swine flu.
So, be aware. Prevent swine flu as much as possible. But if you note the symptoms, consult your doctor at the earliest.
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