It is that time of the year when with every passing day one gets to learn about the gradually increasing number of people being reported with or even succumbing to the complications of Swine flu. Russia, Ukraine, Syria, Scotland, India, Iran and now Pakistan have reported growing number of cases in the last few weeks. H1N1, the relatively recent, Influenza sub-type A virus became synonymous with Swine flu since 2009 when the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the disease as a pandemic. Many other strains cropped up since then including H1N2, H2N1, H3N1, H3N2 and H2N3. In August 2010, the pandemic was declared as over and the virus was deemed to return and affect globally as a seasonal flu virus.

Due to its name it leaves one curious how it occurs in Pakistan — a pre-dominantly Muslim country. The fact is that though it did originate from the pig which got infected with the strain of the influenza virus transferred from different hosts like birds or human beings, the virus then underwent some changes before it returned the human race the favour.

Thanks to the host’s origin and the route of development that includes phases within human beings, birds and pigs, different strains of influenza virus have cropped up. Every time a new strain develops the targeting medicine and vaccine needs to be modified accordingly. This primarily is the reason why in the West flu shots are recommended annually to tackle the changing strain of the virus. This is contrary to the vaccine for other diseases that may be enough for a lifetime or may just require a booster dose after every decade. The virus that we encounter as a cause of swine flu today may not come from pig and takes the human-to-human route.

There’s no need to panic but if symptoms persist it’s better to consult a physician

How it is spread, symptoms and who is at risk?

The swine flu spreads quickly via contaminated nasal droplets through the air we breathe in. It may get into our system from eyes, mouth, nose and throat. Being in large congested crowds or travelling to those areas where people were recently exposed to the flu increases one’s chances of bringing back the same to their loved ones.

The symptoms of swine flu are just like any other flu. Fever, stuffed or runny nose, headache, body ache, cough, sore throat, watery eyes, fatigue and nausea are some common symptoms. In some cases diarrhoea and vomiting may also occur.

People at risk includes those working in healthcare facilities due to direct exposure, or those who are more than 50 years old, younger than two years, pregnant women, those who may have asthma, may have compromised immunity system, may be on aspirin therapy or are already a patient of some chronic disease.

Safety and precautions

Influenza vaccination is a much neglected norm in Pakistan. Thanks to the variations and ever changing nature of the strains, the influenza vaccine shot generally covers three to four strains of influenza virus which are considered most common every year. H1N1 is also included as one of the strains being covered.

The spread of the infection can be curbed by taking care of a few basic things. Handwashing tops the list. Thorough, frequent handwash with a soap or hand sanitiser helps. Limit the exposure by avoiding congested crowds especially during outbreaks since the virus spread through nasal droplets in the common air we inhale. If already infected, then while coughing and sneezing use a disposable tissue to cover your mouth and nose to avoid the spread of droplets. A patient may limit his movement, stay back home till completely recovered and may seek help for daily chores from as few family members as possible. Rest; since sleep boosts the immunity systems and drink lots of liquid including water, juices and soups.

Swine flu is a viral infection and not a bacterial one. No antibiotics can cure it. Fever, runny nose, body aches and pain may be relieved to some extent by over the counter remedies and traditional treatments for cough, cold and flu. Usually, the symptoms subside within a week to 10 days.

If you have flu symptoms and you’re pregnant or you have a chronic disease, such as asthma, emphysema, diabetes or a heart condition, you have a higher risk of complications from the flu. Complications of swine flu may resemble severe viral pneumonia (viral and secondary bacterial pneumonia), which is the most serious complication of the flu as it can cause death. Other complications include sinus and ear infections, asthma exacerbations, and / or bronchitis.

Twitter: @Ali_Shahid82

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, January 31st, 2016