Sunday, May 3, 2009

Influenza A-H1N1 (Swine Flu) FAQ_02.05.09

It was reported on 25th April 2009 that a strain of flu never seen before has killed as many as 61 people in Mexico and has also been seen in the United States, where eight people have been infected but recovered.

The World Health Organization said tests showed the virus from 12 of the Mexican Patients was the same genetically as a new strain of swine flu, designated H1N1, seen in eight people in California and Texas.

The Govern­ment is now on “high alert” after the World Health Organi­sation (WHO) raised the swine flu alert to Phase Five, meaning that a worldwide pandemic is imminent. According to the World Health Organization, "An influenza pandemic occurs when a new influenza virus appears against which the human population has no immunity, resulting in epidemics worldwide with enormous numbers of deaths and illness."
The following is a compilation of FAQ regarding the flu extracted from emails and websites:

a) What is swine influenza?
It is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A strains of the influenza virus. It regularly causes high flu outbreaks in pigs but with low death rates. There are four main sub-types of the virus, but the most recent isolated influenza viruses from pigs have been H1N1 viruses.

b) How does swine flu spread?
Influenza viruses can be directly transmitted from pigs to people and from people to pigs. Human infection with swine flu viruses are most likely to occur when people are in close proximity to infected pigs, such as in pig barns and livestock exhibits at fairs.Swine influenza A (H1N1) virus spreads in the same way as seasonal flu. Flu spreads mainly through coughs and sneezes of people with influenza. Sometimes people may become infected by touching a contaminated surface and then touching their mouth or nose.

c) What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of swine flu are similar to the symptoms of regular flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills confusion, vomiting and fatigue. Some people have also reported diarrhea and vomiting. Severe illness -- pneumonia and respiratory failure -- have been reported with swine flu infection in people. In children, the symptoms include trouble in breathing, bluish skin colour, being irritable, fever and rashes.

d) How can someone with the flu infect others?
Infected people can pass the infection to others a day before symptoms develop and up to 7 or more days after becoming sick

e) How long is someone with swine flu considered contagious?
People with swine influenza virus infection should be considered potentially contagious as long as they are symptomatic; possibly for up to seven days following the onset of the illness. Children, especially younger children, might potentially be contagious for longer periods.

f) How does swine flu kill?
Swine flu — just like any other flu — is a respiratory infection. It exploits a weakened immune system to attack major organs — especially your lungs. When it gets into your lungs, it can lead to pneumonia, which can kill you. The flu can also cause secondary infections in your body — any of which can lead to failure of vital organs and death.

g) Has this strain of flu been seen before?
No. Flu mutates constantly, so it is common for new strains to emerge. Pigs can also be infected with both human and avian influenza, and the current circulating swine flu strain appears to contain genetic elements from all three.

h) Can swine flu be treated with antiviral drugs and flu vaccine?
The swine flu is resistant to two common drugs – Amantadine and Rimantadine. The H1N1 swine flu viruses are very different from human H1N1 viruses. Therefore, vaccines for human seasonal flu would not provide protection. However, a “seed vaccine” has been specifically tailored to this swine flu and will be manufactured if officials deem it necessary.CDC recommends the use of oseltamivir or zanamivir for treatment and/or prevention of infection. Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines (pills, liquid or an inhaler) that fight against the flu by keeping flu viruses from reproducing in your body.

i) Can people catch swine flu by eating pork?
No. Swine influenza viruses are not transmitted by food. Eating properly handled and cooked pork and pork products is safe. Cooking pork to an internal temperature of 70ÂșC and above kills the swine flu virus.

j) What can I do to protect myself from getting sick?
There is no vaccine available right now to protect against this new H1N1 virus. There are everyday actions that can help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses like influenza.
Take these everyday steps to protect your health:
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- Stay home if you are sick for 7 days after your symptoms begin or until you have been symptom-free for 24 hours, whichever is longer. This is to keep from infecting others and spreading the virus further.
Other important actions that you can take are:
- Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds and other social distancing measures.
- Be prepared in case you get sick and need to stay home for a week or so; a supply of over-the-counter medicines, alcohol-based hand rubs, tissues and other related items might could be useful and help avoid the need to make trips out in public while you are sick and contagious.

k) What precautions are in place in Malaysia?
The Health Ministry’s operations room in Putrajaya has started a 24-hour monitoring of the situation. The public can call 03-8881 0200/300 for enquiries.
- Those returning from Latin American countries and found to have flu-like symptoms will be quarantined.
- Health Ministry officials are conducting health screenings on passengers arriving from the United States.
- Thermal scanners will be placed at international airports to speed up the screening process for swine flu.
- Public and private medical practitioners have been instructed to report to the district health office any patient with influenza-like illnesses or severe pneumonia symptoms and who had travelled to the affected countries after April 17.
- Owners of the 797 pig farms nationwide have been ordered to immediately contact the nearest Veterinary Services Department office or the Animal Disease Control Centre if their workers or animals show symptoms linked to the swine flu.

For more information, please refer to the followings:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

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