1. What is swine flu?
Swine flu is a type of influenza virus. Influenza viruses are named after the proteins on the outside which are recognized by the body, H and N. There are dozens of combinations of these two proteins, each one giving a different type of influenza virus. Swine flu virus is H1N1 influenza. The original swine flu virus was first isolated from a pig in 1930.
2. Can it hurt me?
Influenza viruses infect pigs (swine), birds, humans and a few other species. Most strains of influenza are quite restricted in the host they will infect but occasionally jump from one species to another. Swine flu infects pigs but is also capable of infecting humans.
3. Will there be a swine flu pandemic?
It’s too early to say. Scientists are carefully recording the spread of the current epidemic to see how easily this virus is capable of spreading from person to person. World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan says the present outbreak “has pandemic potential” but that “it is too early to say whether a pandemic will actually occur”.
Update: This outbreak is now officially a pandemic.
4. How many people have been affected by swine flu?
The number is growing – click here for the latest news.
5. Is there any treatment for swine flu?
Vaccines are available against H1N1 influenza but it is not known how effective they are against this strain. WHO says the virus appears to be susceptible to the influenza drug Tamiflu (oseltamivir), and Relenza (zanamivir). It is not known if resistance to these drugs will occur.
6. How does swine flu spread?
Influenza viruses are transmitted through coughing or sneezing by people infected with the virus. People may become infected by touching something with the virus on it and then touching their mouth or nose, so frequent hand washing is a good idea. You cannot get swine influenza from eating cooked pork or pork products.
7. Has swine flu infected humans before?
Sporadic human infections with swine flu occur regularly but not frequently, e.g. one or two a year in the USA. Most commonly, these cases occur in persons with direct exposure to pigs. There are a few previous cases of one person transmitting swine flu to others.
8. What are the symptoms of swine flu?
The symptoms of swine flu in people are similar to the symptoms of regular influenza, including fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and coughing. Some people with swine flu also have reported runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
9. Should I travel to Mexico / the USA?
The World Health Organization (WHO) is not presently advising against travel to Mexico or the USA. National governments may be offering different advice (check locally). Travellers to affected areas are advised to consult a doctor immediately if they show signs of flu-like symptoms.
10. More information:
- UK HPA
- MicrobiologyBytes: Influenza
11. Are we all going to die?
Probably not. Every year many thousands of people around the world die as a result of influenza, a fact which goes largely unreported. The number of deaths increases in epidemic years. Pandemics (worldwide epidemics) occur unpredictably every 10-30 years. Millions of people die, billions survive.