In 2009, swine flu, also referred to as the H1N1, made headline news in the United States. It was declared a pandemic because it was contagious in the country and was earlier recorded in 74 countries around the globe. Since then, this disease continued to circulate in the United States; it was predominant during the first season of 2014. This shows that the population of the United States is still at risk of developing an infection with the virus. This paper will discuss causes of swine flu, the way it is spread, its symptoms, medication, and prevention measures.
Definition and Causes
Swine flu is a disease affecting the respiratory system of a swine. It is caused by the type A influenza virus, which often causes outbreaks in pigs (Dandagi & Byahatti, 2011). When the virus affects pigs, it causes high rates of illness, but death rates are not high. This virus can circulate for as long as one year without causing illness, but it is mostly prevalent during winter months and late fall. Swine flu, like any other influenza viruses, changes constantly (Dandagi & Byahatti, 2011); when pigs are infected by a virus from different species, the virus reasserts, forming new viruses, which are a mixture of swine and human or avian viruses. The influenza type A viruses found in pigs include H1N1, H1N2, H3N1, as well as H3N2 (Dandagi & Byahatti, 2011).
The influenza viruses found in pigs do not infect people; however, the infections have been found to be sporadic in humans, causing swine flu. People who have direct exposure to pigs, like workers in swine ranches and children visiting pigs at a fair, face a high risk of getting an infection. The swine virus can also spread from person to person. Those who are infected with this virus first get it from pigs and then infect other people who get close to them through coughing and sneezing. The spreading of the virus continues when people touch infected people or their things, which also have the virus. The swine flu is seasonal. In the United States, people were hit in two waves. The first one was identified during spring, and a larger wave, when many people were affected, came in the late summer. In late October 2009, there were reports on cases of the disease in 48 states, and this was considered as the peak because since then, there were fewer states reporting widespread cases (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2012).
People infected with swine flu have symptoms similar to those of seasonal influenza in human. The symptoms include fever, coughing, lack of appetite, lethargy, running or stuffy nose, headaches, fatigue, and muscle or body aches. Some people also have diarrhea and vomiting; however, this is more common to children. Since swine flu symptoms resemble those of common influenza in humans, many people do not recognize it immediately, which might lead to complications including bronchitis, pneumonia, sinusitis, as well as ear infections (Dandagi & Byahatti, 2011). Those who get treatment early, recover within few days. There are cases of severity, especially in children, elderly people and individuals with health complications or chronic diseases. In children, the severity of the disease can be detected through symptoms such as dyspnea, tachypnea, apnea, dehydration, cyanosis, extreme irritability, and altered mental status.
Delay in the treatment of the infection might lead to death. In 2009, swine flu caused the death of approximately 10,000 people in the United States, and those infected were close to 50 million (CDC, 2012). In November 2009, health officials recorded the death of 1,100 children, and 200,000 people were hospitalized.
Anyone who is exposed to the swine flu viruses can get infected and develop serious complications unless treated early. However, there are higher risks in some people, leading to serious complication when they are infected. This group of people includes older people aged 65 years and more and people with chronic diseases including heart disease, asthma or diabetes (Dandagi & Byahatti, 2011). Pregnant women and young children are also at risk of developing serious complications when they are infected. Individuals with HIV/AIDS and those suffering from cancer are also more vulnerable to swine flu. This group of people has low immunity, and in case of an outbreak of a contagious disease, they are seriously affected. The severity varies from season to season, but according to the research, ninety per cent of deaths recorded in a flu season make up people aged 65 years or older (CDC, 2012). Records also show that the 2009 outbreak killed many elderly people, and most of them had seasonal flu, pneumonia, heart attack, and strokes.
The diagnosis of swine flu is done clinically by looking at the patient’s history of contacts with people infected by the disease or having symptoms related to it. The patient is also screened and interviewed on the symptoms experienced. After the interview, the health professional takes a quick test to determine the kind of influenza virus that has infected the patient; the test is done for influenza type A and type B (Dandagi & Byahatti, 2011). In the case that the patient is infected with influenza type A, he or she is diagnosed with swine flu or strain flu. Further tests are done to identify a specific antigen associated with the swine flu virus; these tests are done by specialized laboratories in the US. During the outbreak in 2009, hospitals sent tests to these laboratories to ascertain their worries (CDC, 2012).
Swine flu has medications that are available in many drug stores and hospitals in the USA. Several antiviral drugs can be given to those infected with the swine virus. These include zanamivir, oseltamivir, rimantadine, and amantadine (CDC, 2012). However, since swine virus, like other viruses, changes from time to time, they have become susceptible to the currently available antiviral drugs. The virus has developed resistance to rimantadine and amantadine; therefore, the CDC recommends those affected with the swine flu virus use zanamivir or oseltamivir to prevent the spreading of the virus and treat it (CDC, 2012). There are also preventive drugs that are given to those who are not infected. This vaccine was produced by scientists during the 2009 outbreak; it is administered as an injection or a nasal spray. Since the swine virus occurs seasonally, the Americans are encouraged to be vaccinated at least once a year.
Apart from the vaccine, there are other preventive measures, which people are encouraged to adhere to in order to curb its spread.
Individuals who are frequently exposed to animals, especially to pigs, are encouraged to wash their hands frequently or after each contact; however, this applies to everyone, especially during an outbreak. Again, in case someone is suspected to have the disease, isolation should be immediate in order to avoid contact with other people, and the health professional handling the infected people should wear protective clothes such as gloves, face masks, and be vaccinated regularly.
People should also keep their workplaces and their homes clean; surfaces that are frequently touched should be disinfected frequently, especially when there is an outbreak or someone suspected to have the disease was within the area (Dandagi & Byahatti, 2011). In public places, people should practice coughing or sneezing with their mouth and nose covered. Again, during an outbreak, people should avoid touching their eyes, mouth, and nose because this is where the viruses enter the body. Apart from cleanliness, people should ensure that they eat well and practice other healthy living practices such as getting enough sleep. This boosts the immune system, which helps to fight the swine virus and other infectious diseases in case of an outbreak (CDC, 2012).
Government and Public Health Interventions
Swine flu is a pandemic, and unless well handled, it can spread widely, causing a disaster of death and health complications. Therefore, the government and public health community should contain its spread. Since the 2009 incident, the public health has increased its surveillance and collaboration to track the impacts and emerging epidemiological patterns of the disease (Arora et al., 2011). To contain a potential outbreak, the US public health is collaborating with partners within the country and internationally; this is to ensure that it is contained early before it spreads to other regions.
During outbreaks, the government collaborates with the public health officials to implement control measures, which include quarantine of people to reduce contact with the infected people, the isolation of those affected to decrease the spread of the virus (Arora et al., 2011).
Quarantine includes canceling of public gatherings, restrictions on travel.
Public awareness departments are also used to educate on what to do to keep safe. This includes sensitization on cleanliness, travel controls, and ways to handle a person suspected to have the disease. If the disease has already spread, treatment and control measures are put in place to curb it; this includes making antivirus treatment available and the vaccination of people within the region is done to reduce its spreading (Arora et al., 2011).
Swine flu is a pandemic that if not well managed, it can cause more death in the United States every year, since it is seasonal. The government and the public health department should therefore be vigilant to contain any occurrence. The public, on the other hand, should reduce its spread by ensuring that they are vaccinated at least once a year, and observe cleanliness all the time.