Swine flu, a respiratory disease of the pigs is caused by Type A influenza virus. Normally, the virus as such, does not infect humans. But periodic cases have been reported usually in people who have had close contact with pigs, and there have been rare cases where the disease has spread from humans to other humans.
But, the infection OR the virus strain keeps changing constantly, the resultant virus infecting humans and proving to be fatal. It is one such mutation that is spreading fast globally in recent times.
The recent outbreak in Mexico has been caused by a new strain of the Type A influenza virus subtype H1N1 that contains DNA that is typically found in avian, swine and human viruses. It is genetically different from the fully human H1N1 seasonal influenza virus that has been circulating globally for the past few years. The new virus mixes genetic material from birds, pigs and humans. The resulting new strain or hybrid with an unidentified mutation as yet, has the ability to pass from person to person with ease, as people have no natural defenses against it. It spreads like any other flu, through coughing and sneezing, and may cause a worsening of underlying chronic medical conditions and has proved to be fatal.
In Mexico, where the outbreak was first detected in March 2009, the flu has claimed over 100 lives and the alarming part is that most victims are healthy adults between the ages of 20 and 50. Besides Mexico and the US, the flu has spread to over 70 countries worldwide infecting more than 2,00,000 people. USA, where the most number of cases are detected, reports nearly 50,000 infected cases and around 500 deaths. US diagnosed their first case on April 2009 in two children in San Diego county, California. As of June 2009, the World Health Organisation raised the worldwide pandemic alert level to Phase 6 in response to the ongoing global spread of the novel influenza A (H1N1) virus. A 'Phase 6' designation indicates that a global pandemic is underway. India which reported 14 cases of infection in June 2009, now has over 1000 cases with 15 casualties, and the number is keeping on increasing at an alarming rate.
Though not as widespread as of now, cases of Swine flu of different strains have been reported in the US, in 1976 at New Jersey, with more than 200 cases with serious illness and one death, and another death had been reported in 1988 at Wisconsin. Major genetic changes in the Influenza A virus have caused Pandemics or epidemics in the past, such as the Spanish flu in 1918 infecting approx 500 million people and causing 50 million deaths, Asian flu in 1957 killing approx 2million people and Hong Kong flu has claimed approx 1million in 1968.
The symptoms are the same as that of common flu. Fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue etc are commonly noticed. Diarrhea and vomiting have also been reported with swine flu. Swine flu infection can vary from mild to severe. At times it can lead to serious complications developing pneumonia, respiratory failure and even death as have been reported in cases during 1976 and 1988 in the United States. Seek emergency medical care if you experience shortness of breath, sudden dizziness, severe vomiting, fever with rashes, pressure in the chest or abdomen, confusion etc. People at higher risk of serious complications include people age 65 years and older, children younger than 5 years old, pregnant women, and people of any age with underlying medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, or people.
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