Turn on the news today and you can be sure one of the hot topics being covered is the status of the Influenza A – H1N1 strain, commonly referred to as “swine flu”. Ever since the World Health Organization (WHO) raised the pandemic alert level of the swine flu from phase 4 to 5 on April 29, 2009, people have become increasingly cautious. Naturally, prevention comes to mind and the most popular question recently is how?
Swine flu is a respiratory disease that originates from pigs as the name would suggest. Although the swine flu originated from pigs, a common misconception is that people can receive the swine flu from eating pork. Pork that is cooked well pose no risk of transmitting the virus. Cooking the meat well kills all bacteria and virus.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) mentions the most common method of transmission of H1N1 from human to human is through coughing or sneezing from infected individuals. Similar to the seasonal flu, swine flu will cause similar symptoms of the standard flu such as coughing, fever, body aches, and fatigue. To be safe, it is recommended to stay away from individuals who show signs of being sick. WHO recommends staying away from public areas crowding with people; however, for most individuals this is nearly impossible to do. This is where practicing good hand hygiene becomes necessary.
As with all influenza viruses, the CDC notes that washing hands regularly will be beneficial in the prevention of contracting the illness. Invisible to the naked eye, swine flu can reside in droplets of bodily fluids that can fall on doorknobs, tables, or other public areas. If you were to touch such surfaces and then touch your nose or mouth, your risk of receiving the swine flu is very high. Washing the hands or using alcohol-based sanitizers will ensure your hands remain clean just in case you involuntarily touch your nose.
As we enter the summer months, experts note that the voracity of the swine flu will die down. The biggest fear is what will happen when we enter the autumn season. Historically, outbreaks of influenza saw the virus die down during summer to only pick up during autumn and winter when the virus can spread easier. The biggest fear from experts is that the swine flu can pick up elements of the seasonal flu and develop properties of resistance.
Research is currently underway to successfully combat this virus which includes the development of vaccines. Full development of the H1N1 influenza strain vaccine is closer, but is still racing against the clock since full-scale production of the vaccine will also take time to make.
Time will tell how serious the 2009 swine flu is. Perhaps the virus will just go away or perhaps it will cause an outbreak. In any case, the best thing we can do in the meantime is be smart about preventing the spread. At this time, washing your hands regularly is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of influenza. Let’s wash our hands properly and do our part in creating a healthier environment.
-Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. www.cdc.gov.
-World Health Organization. www.who.gov.