You know, there is a joke that has been doing the rounds for years, meaning it is
a lot older than swine flu. However, the gist of it is still true and applicable
to Swine Flu. It goes like this:
“How can I tell if my vomiting is morning sickness or the flu? If it is the flu,
you will get better”.
Well, even if it was morning sickness, you will get better – eventually. Like I said
before, the unintended message of the joke is true: With flu, even swine flu, the
expectation is that you will get better. That is the case in the vast majority of
There is, however, emerging evidence that pregnant women may be more susceptible
to the swine flu virus than the average population. In the United States, up to the
end of July 2009, there had been 305 swine flu related deaths. Details of the majority
of them (266) were available and 6% of these were among pregnant women, the majority
being healthy and in the last trimester. The risk of hospitalisation for pregnant
women who catch the virus has also been running at four times the average. Pregnancy
is therefore legitimately regarded as a risk factor.
The Influenza virus
There are many influenza viruses. The influenza viruses are different from the viruses
that cause the common cold or childhood respiratory diseases. Many of them cause
a seasonal illness, typically in winter. The seasonal outbreaks of flu are responsible
for deaths of hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people, usually the elderly; every
What do we mean when we talk of a pandemic? A pandemic is when an infection spreads
to many countries in most or all parts of the world. AIDS is probably the most well
known current pandemic.
The Influenza viruses have a tendency to evolve and sometimes produce strains that
are deadlier and spread rapidly worldwide.
The Spanish Flu Pandemic is probably the deadliest influenza pandemic in history.
It started in 1918 and eventually came to an end in 1920. It is estimated to have
killed between 50 and 100 million people worldwide. Significantly, this pandemic
was caused by the same virus strain (H1N1) causing the current swine flu.
There were two more influenza pandemics in the 20th century, the Asian Flu pandemic
in 1957-58 which killed almost 2 million people and the Hong Kong Flu pandemic responsible
for 1 million deaths. This was in 1968-69.
The Swine Flu Pandemic
The current influenza pandemic sweeping the globe started in Mexico among pigs (hence
the name swine flu) in early 2009. It soon spread to humans creating understandable
panic. The initial response by governments in the developed world was to try containment
measures to prevent spread. This is the tactic that was applied for the ‘bird flu’
outbreak in 2006-2007 mainly in South East Asia. Bird flu is caused by a different
virus (H5N1). Containment measures did not work for swine flu.
As mentioned earlier, swine flu is caused by the H1N1 influenza virus strain.
Swine Flu (H1N1) symptoms:
One of the biggest problems for making a correct timely diagnosis for swine flu is
the fact that the symptoms are non-specific and severity quite variable. The symptoms
§ Fever: Temperature of 38°C or above. Sometimes the fever is low-grade.
§ Joint or limb pains
§ Runny nose
§ Sore throat
§ A feeling of fatigue
§ Vomiting (remember the joke above)
Not everyone with the infection will have all of these symptoms.
Those at increased risk for Swine flu
Everybody can contract swine flu. The groups identified to be at possible increased
risk of severe disease include those with:
§ Chronic lung disease including asthma
§ Chronic heart , kidney or liver disease
§ Chronic neurological diseases
§ Suppressed immunity
§ The elderly; those aged above 65. However, so far only about 1% of confirmed patients
have been in this age group.
§ Young children under 5
How swine flu spreads:
This is a typical aerosol spread type of infection. It is passed from person to person
through coughing and sneezing. The droplets that spread into the air as a result
of these actions will contain the virus and once inhaled, the infection will be acquired.
The virus can also be acquired through handling normal surfaces such as door handles,
walls, combs, work surfaces such as computer keyboards etc.