H1N1 pandemic; media outlets still using ‘Swine flu’

H1N1 pandemic; media outlets still using ‘Swine flu’

Dr.Kedar Karki

The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that they have raised the level of influenza pandemic alert from phase 5 to phase 6. Some serious misunderstandings around the safety of pork exist due to the initial unfortunate naming of H1N1 Influenza A as swine flu. Influenza viruses do not affect the safety of pork or pork products.

Many major reporting outlets (BBC, CNN and newspapers globally) are still using the media-friendly term ‘swine flu’ when covering the rise in pandemic level, prompting an immediate response from within the pork producing industry.

WHO’s decision to raise the pandemic alert level to Phase 6 is a reflection of the spread of the virus, not the severity of illness caused by the virus. It’s uncertain at this time how serious or severe this novel H1N1 pandemic will be in terms of how many people infected will develop serious complications or die from novel H1N1 infection. Experience with this virus so far is limited and influenza is unpredictable. However, because novel H1N1 is a new virus, many people may have little or no immunity against it, and illness may be more severe and widespread as a result. In addition, currently there is no vaccine to protect against novel H1N1 virus.

The Canadian Pork Council (CPC) had reminded everyone that the H1N1 Influenza A virus, often referred to as ‘swine flu’, is not transmissible to people through eating properly handled and prepared pork or other products derived from pigs. The safety of the food supply is not affected and Canadian pork continues to be safe to eat.”

Health authorities have been telling consumers in relation to the spread of H1N1 Influenza A that you cannot get the flu by consuming pork or pork products. This view is shared by the Public Health Agency of Canada, the WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than 70 countries are now reporting cases of human infection with novel H1N1 flu. This number has been increasing over the past few weeks, but many of the cases reportedly had links to travel or were localized outbreaks without community spread. The WHO designation of a pandemic alert Phase 6 reflects the fact that there are now ongoing community level outbreaks in multiple parts of world.

Novel influenza A (H1N1) is a new flu virus of swine origin that first caused illness in Mexico and the United States in March and April, 2009. It’s thought that novel influenza A (H1N1) flu spreads in the same way that regular seasonal influenza viruses spread, mainly through the coughs and sneezes of people who are sick with the virus, but it may also be spread by touching infected objects and then touching your nose or mouth. Novel H1N1 infection has been reported to cause a wide range of flu-like symptoms, including fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. In addition, many people also have reported nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea.

The first novel H1N1 patient in the United States was confirmed by laboratory testing at CDC on April 15, 2009. The second patient was confirmed on April 17, 2009. It was quickly determined that the virus was spreading from person-to-person. On April 22, CDC activated its Emergency Operations Center to better coordinate the public health response. On April 26, 2009, the United States Government declared a public health emergency and has been actively and aggressively implementing the nation’s pandemic response plan.

Since the outbreak was first detected, an increasing number of U.S. states have reported cases of novel H1N1 influenza with associated hospitalizations and deaths. By June 3, 2009, all 50 states in the United States and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico were reporting cases of novel H1N1 infection. While nationwide U.S. influenza surveillance systems indicate that overall influenza activity is decreasing in the country at this time, novel H1N1 outbreaks are ongoing in parts of the U.S., in some cases with intense activity.

CDC is continuing to watch the situation carefully, to support the public health response and to gather information about this virus and its characteristics. The Southern Hemisphere is just beginning its influenza season and the experience there may provide valuable clues about what may occur in the Northern Hemisphere this fall and winter.

Swine Influenza (swine flu) is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza virus that regularly causes outbreaks of influenza in pigs. Swine flu viruses cause high levels of illness and low death rates in pigs. Swine influenza viruses may circulate among swine throughout the year, but most outbreaks occur during the late fall and winter months similar to outbreaks in humans. The classical swine flu virus (an influenza type A H1N1 virus) was first isolated from a pig in 1930.

Swine flu viruses do not normally infect humans. However, sporadic human infections with swine flu have occurred. Most commonly, these cases occur in persons with direct exposure to pigs (e.g. children near pigs at a fair or workers in the swine industry). In addition, there have been documented cases of one person spreading swine flu to others. For example, an outbreak of apparent swine flu infection in pigs in Wisconsin in 1988 resulted in multiple human infections, and, although no community outbreak resulted, there was antibody evidence of virus transmission from the patient to health care workers who had close contact with the patient.

Like all influenza viruses, swine flu viruses change constantly. Pigs can be infected by avian influenza and human influenza viruses as well as swine influenza viruses. When influenza viruses from different species infect pigs, the viruses can reassort (i.e. swap genes) and new viruses that are a mix of swine, human and/or avian influenza viruses can emerge. Over the years, different variations of swine flu viruses have emerged. At this time, there are four main influenza type A virus subtypes that have been isolated in pigs: H1N1, H1N2, H3N2, and H3N1. However, most of the recently isolated influenza viruses from pigs have been H1N1 viruses.

Hog farmers are suffering huge financial losses – which increase every time the virus is incorrectly called the ‘swine flu’.  Since the virus was found, average industry losses have increased by $10 per hog due to the misunderstanding about the relationship between pork and the virus.

To protect from this disease if we cover our nose and mouth with a tissue when we cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. Washing your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. We can also use alcohol-based hand cleaners. Avoiding touching eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way. Try to avoid close contact with sick people. Stay home from work or school if you are sick.

Although in last fortnight there have been reports from many part of our country about flu like illness but still none of these illnesses neither suspected for this dreaded illness till date for us it seems to be some relief. But as the disease has been detected in Delhi and city of Punjab our own public health authorities need to be alerted at air and land embarkment site.               

Source by Dr.Kedar Karki

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