Characteristics of the disease
Swine flu, influenza A or H1N1, as it is also called, was detected in April 2009 and it is spreading across the world since then. The symptoms of the illness resemble those of an ordinary, seasonal influenza, and include cough, fever, chills, body ache etc. People who were in frequent contact with pigs were more likely to catch swine flu at the beginning of the outbreak. It is suspected that the virus first spread in Mexico then went on to the USA and traveled from there. However, until now, the US has been the only country where there have been confirmed cases of swine flu that have led to death. So far, the illness is not much more dangerous than normal influenza, but the World Health Organization has still declared it would be raising the pandemic disease alert level to phase 5 out of 6, because of the alarming probability of swine flu indeed becoming an international pandemic, and of the H1N1 virus mutating and causing more damage than it can now.
Drastic and sometimes unjustified measures against pigs have already been taken. China, Serbia and Russia completely banned the import of any North American pork products, and in Egypt, the government decided to kill all 300 000 pigs in the country, despite a complete lack of evidence that the virus was even present in those animals. It has been recommended to quarantine those pigs that are infected, or are suspected to be infected, with the H1N1 virus.
Why be careful?
It may seem that swine flu is just like the viral infection that most of us get every winter, and that there is no special reason to be more afraid of it. This is not entirely true for several reasons. The virus is transmitted from human to human, with an exceptionally high transmission rate compared to other illnesses, and so avoiding contact with pigs is not enough to protect a person from contracting swine flu. Although the death rate is as of now still very low (less than 1%), victims are generally young children or elder people, which is similar to an influenza where those people most at risk are normally fragile population groups such as the elderly or very small infants. The WHO has expressed concern about the dangerous effects on the health of these groups. As of now, there is also no vaccination that could help prevent infection with the H1N1 virus.
How to protect us against H1N1?
There are a several tips for protection and prevention that are simple and easy for anyone to follow so as to limit the risk of catching swine flu. To start off with, the myth that H1N1 can be transmitted through pork is, in fact, false. Meat from infected pigs would in fact contain the H1N1 virus, but it would die as soon as the pork was cooked. There is therefore absolutely no problem with eating well-cooked pork. There are, however, a couple of other rules and guidelines that should be followed, even though most of them may seem like common sense. Wash your hands frequently with a mild soap and warm water so germs can be killed off. Do not come into close contact with ill people since you would not want to catch their germs. Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and dispose of this immediately. Do not share cutlery, glasses or dishes with anyone, especially if you suspect they might be ill.
Furthermore, try getting a large amount of sleep so as not to leave your immune system weakened. Regular exercise can also help keep your immune system active. Avoid exposure to any kind of substances that can impair the functioning of your immune system. If you do feel like you are coming down with something, call your doctor, describe the symptoms, and they will be sure to advise you further. However, a key symptom of swine flu is fever, so if you do not have fever, then there is little to be worried about. If you have contracted the disease, stay home and avoid contact with other people. Take pain pills in moderation as they can have problematic side effects. Your doctor can prescribe you an effective medicine. And finally, chicken soup is not just an urban myth: it can fight congestion and thus can speed up recovery.