It was in April 2009 that a reassortant virus (a virus originating from a mix of human, bird and swine gene sources) hit the united States population and later swept all across the globe. This h1n1 type 1 influenza virus may find its birth through direct contact with pigs, but the yet to end outbreak has now managed to render humans as carriers themselves and hence repeated genetic drifts require the vaccines to be replicated repeatedly as well.
The influenza virion is roughly spherical. It is an enveloped virus; the outer layer is a lipid membrane which is taken from the host cell in which the virus multiplies. Inserted into the lipid membrane are ‘spikes’, which are proteins – actually glycoproteins, because they consist of protein linked to sugars – known as HA (hemagglutinin) and NA (neuraminidase). These are the proteins that determine the subtype of influenza virus (A/H1N1, for example). The HA and NA are important in the immune response against the virus; antibodies (proteins made to combat infection) against these spikes may protect against infection. The NA protein is the target of the antiviral drugs Relenza and Tamiflu. Also embedded in the lipid membrane is the M2 protein, which is the target of the antiviral adamantanes amantadine and rimantadine.
The condition is often confused with other common health issues due to similar clinical manifestations such as:
- Body aches and headaches
- Sore throat
- A drop in your appetite
- Runny nose
- Throat irritation
- Stomach upset
- Tiredness from all the above symptoms
Vomiting and diarrhea may accompany these symptoms in most cases. Children effected may also experience neurological changes such as seizures or mental health alterations. As observed, children, pregnant women, obese individuals, and those with respiratory and neurological disorders are more vulnerable to swine flu. Naturally, immune compromised patients such as those having cancer or AIDS may also contract the disease easily like most other diseases
If a person becomes sick with swine flu, antiviral drugs can make the illness milder and make the patient feel better faster. They may also prevent serious flu complications. For treatment, antiviral drugs work best if started soon after getting sick (within two days of symptoms). Beside antivirals, supportive care at home or in a hospital focuses on controlling fevers, relieving pain and maintaining fluid balance, as well as identifying and treating any secondary infections or other medical problems. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the use of oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza) for the treatment and/or prevention of infection with swine influenza viruses; however, the majority of people infected with the virus make a full recovery without requiring medical attention or antiviral drugs. The virus isolated in the 2009 outbreak have been found resistant to amantadine and rimantadine.
In the U.S., on April 27, 2009, the FDA issued Emergency Use Authorizations to make available Relenza and Tamiflu antiviral drugs to treat the swine influenza virus in cases for which they are currently unapproved. The agency issued these EUAs to allow treatment of patients younger than the current approval allows and to allow the widespread distribution of the drugs, including by volunteers.
Laboratory diagnosis is significant to confirm flu but repeated tests are a good idea as the rapid fly test is not very accurate and depends on the sample collection and testing methods. One can prevent the onset of flu by following simple practices:
- Follow personal hygiene - washing hands, using clean cooking utensils, maintaining a separate napkin to wipe your nose and mouth, using a separate drinking water glass, etc. Can be simple ways to prevent the spread of infection
- Public health advice such as school closures, travel regulations, isolation is medically prescribed and keeping a good distance from potential crowds are preventive measures that can be taken.
- Vaccinations do help significantly but may need to be tweaked due to observed genetic drifts.
- Gargling with warm salt water to keep yourself hydrated
- Avoid close contact with infected people.
- Get enough sleep
- Eat a well balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables to keep your immunity going
Keep this piece of information on your fingertips to keep flu at bay.