Swine flu, also known as the H1N1 virus, is a flu that people can get from pigs and sometimes spread to each other by coughing and sneezing. When you get it it seems like an ordinary flu: you cough, have a fever, feel terrible, maybe throw up, etc. But this one can turn into pneumonia and kill you.
Symptoms: a temperature above 38 C (100.4 F) and at least two of the following:
- unusual tiredness,
- runny nose,
- sore throat,
- shortness of breath or cough,
- loss of appetite,
- aching muscles,
- diarrhoea or vomiting.
It might be swine flu or it might just be a plain old flu. Stay home.
Call your doctor directly if:
- you have a serious existing illness that weakens your immune system, such as cancer,
- you are pregnant,
- you have a sick child under one,
- your condition suddenly gets much worse, or
- your condition is still getting worse after seven days (five for a child).
Early tests show it can be cured by taking Tamiflu and Relenza.
To keep from getting it the best thing is to always wash your hands and keep your distance from anyone you think might have it. You cannot get it from eating cooked pork since cooking kills it. You only need a mask if you are taking care of someone who has it.
There have been outbreaks of swine flu in America in 1976, the Philippines in 2007 and in Mexico in 2009. The one in Mexico is spreading to other countries as I write this (April 27th 2009). Over 1600 people are suspected of having it, 103 of them dead so far. In America 20 have it, one is in the hospital, none are dead. (It has since spread to the whole world – October 2009).
In 1976 when an American soldier died of swine flu and hundreds more got sick, the president took no chances and urged everyone to get a swine flu shot. About a fifth of Americans did and no one else died of swine flu – though more than 30 died from side effects of the shots!
The president took such extreme measures because in 1918 the very same virus, H1N1, killed 50 million people. It was brought home by the soldiers from the First World War. Over 2o% of the world got sick. It killed more people than the war itself.
No one knows yet how deadly this swine flu will be. Over a million deaths is not out of the question. The worst of it will come early in 2010 when it will have spread widely and winter hits North America, Europe and Asia.
Other dangerous flus:
- The 1957 Asian flu killed 2 million;
- The 1968 Hong Kong flu killed 1 million, mostly old people in Asia.
Bird flu has killed 257 so far and is still going. It is very deadly but you can only get it from a bird.
The last big outbreak of a disease was Sars in 2003 in China. Over 8,000 got sick and 774 died, mostly in East Asia. Because of that, health authorities are better prepared to handle the new swine flu.