Common Cold or Swine Flu Symptoms? Learn About This Decade-Old Pandemic
- Swine flu was the name of the virus that caused a pandemic back in 2009-2010
- Swine flu is caused by a virus scientifically denoted as influenza A (H1N1)pdm09
- In severe cases, mostly accompanied by some underlying condition, swine flu can be life-threatening
Swine flu was the name of the virus that caused a pandemic back in 2009-2010. Its scientific name is (H1N1)pdm09, although most know it as H1N1. In the first year of its circulation, about 1.5 to 5.7 lakh people may have died due to the virus. Swine flu symptoms are similar to those of regular influenza, with people experiencing everything from coughs and colds to vomiting and body aches. What is interesting about swine flu is that its impact on the older population, that is, of age 65 and above, was unexpectedly low. This is probably because the older population may have had previous exposure to an H1N1 virus.
In 2009, the novel H1N1 virus began to be called swine flu because lab tests demonstrated that “its gene segments were similar to influenza viruses that were most recently identified in and known to circulate among pigs”, the CDC notes. Swine flu is extremely contagious, though today it is categorised amongst the seasonal flu and is just another strain. In India, swine flu is rare and if you do get it, it should resolve within some days to weeks. The general outlook for the swine flu is that it is fatal only in severe cases and most people will recover and live to normal life expectancy.
As is with other flu viruses, maintaining good respiratory hygiene is key to curbing the spread of swine flu. Here is more on swine flu symptoms, its causes, prevention, and treatment.
Causes of swine flu
Swine flu is caused by a virus scientifically denoted as influenza A (H1N1)pdm09. It is a strain of the influenza virus and at the time of the pandemic, it was not previously identified in humans. Transmission of swine flu occurs from person to person and not animal to person. Hence, one need not worry about eating pork. You can catch the virus when you inhale infected respiratory droplets or when you touch an infected surface and then touch your eyes, mouth, or nose.
At the time of the swine flu pandemic, the cause, that is, the novel H1N1 virus was distinguished from other seasonal flu viruses. Today, this is not the case. This means that if you have caught the flu in the last few years, it may be that you have got swine flu.
Symptoms of swine flu
Swine flu causes similar signs and symptoms as other flu viruses. So, if you are down with coughing, a runny nose, fever, and a headache, there is a chance that you have swine flu. What is consoling is that in a majority of the population the symptoms of this H1N1 flu are mild. Below is a list of swine flu symptoms that people have experienced:
- Sore throat
- Runny nose/ stuffy nose
- Watery, red eyes
- Joint pain
- Body aches
- Shortness of breath
As you can see, many of the swine flu symptoms closely resemble those you can expect to get with any other flu. It is customary for many to just let the flu pass. However, if the patient experiences shortness of breath, fever for over 3 days, or convulsions, it is time to seek medical help. In fact, you can do no wrong in getting a doctor on board earlier.
Diagnosis of swine flu
Swine flu diagnosis relies on laboratory testing since swine flu symptoms are not much different from those of other cases of flu. However, before lab testing, your doctor will probably perform a physical exam to get an indication of whether your symptoms incline towards swine flu and whether you need to undergo testing in the first place.
The most common lab test is the rapid influenza diagnostic test. Here, a swab sample from your nose or throat is taken and specialists check for the presence of antigens. The accuracy of this test may vary, and the results are obtained in about 15 minutes. The test tells if you have influenza type A or B. If there is a need for further testing, your doctor will recommend you to a specialised diagnostic laboratory. The aim will then be to identify the particular type of influenza virus.
Treatment for swine flu
Most people will not require any specific swine flu treatment. It is important to note that the impact of this H1N1 flu is not the same as it was back in 2009-2010 when much fewer people had immunity to the virus. Today, H1N1 flu treatment revolves around primarily alleviating symptoms. So, over-the-counter (OTC) drugs can help with cold, body pain, headaches, fever, and so on.
Swine flu medicine in the form of antiviral drugs exists all though there is no cure for swine flu per se. However, your doctor will not administer a swine flu drug indiscriminately. The reason is that the H1N1 flu virus can develop resistance to the antiviral swine flu drug, and this puts people at risk at a disadvantage. These antiviral drugs work better if you start the course within the first 2 days of developing flu symptoms.
Since swine flu is caused by a virus, antibiotics will be of no avail. Hence, some amount of initial testing can be important to treatment and recovery. In the case of complications arising because of the swine flu, doctors may have to adopt other treatments.
You would have noted that the swine flu treatment tends to revolve around symptom relief. Hence, there is scope for home remedies to work and aid your immune system in fighting the virus. Common and useful swine flu home remedies include:
- Getting plenty of rest: Sleep helps the immune system fight better
- Drinking sufficient liquids: Water, juices and soups prevent dehydration and provide nutrients
- Taking pain killers: OTC drugs can help relieve symptoms
The home remedies for swine flu should help you reduce the duration of the illness. To the above list, you can add any practice that helps you reduce stress and anxiety as being psychologically healthy is important too, in terms of your body fighting the virus better.
Vaccine for the flu
Today, the regular flu vaccine works as a swine flu vaccine as well. So, if you take the annual flu jab or use a nasal spray you’d be training your immune system to fight the swine flu virus. Depending on the country you live in the swine flu vaccine for babies, or rather, the flu vaccine will be available as a shot or a nasal spray. However, seasonal flu vaccination is not a standard practice across all nations. Some countries resort to it and others do not.
At the time of the swine flu pandemic, that is back in 2009-2010, the regular flu vaccine did not provide adequate cross-protection against the novel (H1N1)pdm09 virus, which was different from the H1N1 viruses circulating at the time. Hence, there was effort put into developing a swine flu vaccine.
Some swine flu vaccines were developed. For instance,
- Swine flu vaccine name: Pandemrix, Celvapan
Vaccines were available in India and the swine flu vaccine cost was about Rs.150 per dose, though there are reports of heavy inflation in the swine flu vaccine price by unscrupulous doctors.
Despite the note on the history of the H1N1 flu vaccine, what you need to know is that today, the regular seasonal flu vaccine protects you against swine flu.
Prevention of swine flu
Vaccination is one preventive measure that countries adopt but even if people develop immunity to the swine flu virus without a vaccine the effect of the virus is limited.
Because of the way the virus spreads, the common swine flu precautions include:
- Washing hands thoroughly with soap and water
- Maintaining good respiratory hygiene – cough and sneeze etiquette
- Being careful about touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Being careful with people who are sick
The general outlook for swine flu is positive with the majority of the people who get it expected to recover and lead a normal life. In severe cases, mostly accompanied by some underlying condition, swine flu can be life-threatening. Nevertheless, the seasonal flu, of which the swine flu virus is now part, can pose problems, especially if you go on to develop pneumonia. This is why it makes sense to not overlook flu symptoms entirely but give them their due. One way to do this is to remain in contact with your primary care physician.
The Bajaj Finserv Health App makes this easy. With it, you can identify the best doctors, connect with them virtually, over text, call, or video, book appointments at their clinics and more. The app ensures that you do not delay getting an expert medical opinion, which can be very important in terms of you recovering without complications. What’s more, you can download the app for free from Google Play or the Apple App Store.
So, take care of your health the smart way and help build a healthier world!
Please note that this article is solely meant for informational purposes and Bajaj Finserv Health Limited (“BFHL”) does not shoulder any responsibility of the views/advice/information expressed/given by the writer/reviewer/originator. This article should not be considered as a substitute for any medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult with your trusted physician/qualified healthcare professional to evaluate your medical condition. The above article has been reviewed by a qualified doctor and BFHL is not responsible for any damages for any information or services provided by any third party.
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