What You Need To Know About Swine Flu
Last week’s news that Bollywood celebrity Sonam Kapoor was diagnosed with swine flu brought the disease into the limelight. The name itself launched a thousand worries across the country, but the truth is that swine flu isn’t much more serious than your other, run-of-the-mill flus. Swine flu is a mutated version of a respiratory illness in pigs. The version that affects and is spread between humans has similar symptoms to other human flus. And, just like others, most cases are mild, though they can become serious if not treated properly.
Signs and symptoms
The most common symptoms of swine flu are:
- High Fever
- Runny nose
- Severe cough
- Intense body ache
- Scratchy sore throat
- Poor appetite
- Weakness and lethargy
“It’s very similar to other viral infections, especially the common cold and seasonal flu,” says Dr. Parang Mehta, a primary care pediatrician in Surat, Gujarat. “The care and treatment are the same, too. It is only the severity of the illness that indicates a need for specific, anti-swine flu treatment and hospitalization.”
While it’s impossible – and unnecessary – to agonize over every sniffle and identify the exact strain with which you’ve been infected, keep an eye out for these more serious symptoms so you can get proper care should the need arise. Be sure to consult a physician immediately if you experience:
- Difficulty breathing, or fast breathing
- Extreme lethargy and refusal to eat and drink
- Inability to be roused from sleep
- Cyanosis (i.e. blue or dusky colour of lips, tongue, fingers)
- Repeated vomiting, or diarrhea
Treatment and prevention
The majority of people who get swine flu have mild cases that are often mistaken for other, more common illnesses. They get better with simple outpatient oral medication, says Dr. Mehta. However, if you knowingly come into contact with a swine flu patient, contact your doctor right away, even if the flu symptoms aren’t immediately apparent; the disease can be prevented and countered by administering an antiviral drug for one week.
The disease can also be treated by annual vaccination, which is recommended by the World Health Organization. Vaccination doesn’t guarantee you won’t contract the infection, but it can minimize the intensity of the case. This becomes especially important for people with immune systems compromised by other medical conditions. While regular flu vaccines – which include protection against swine flu – are available in India, most people aren’t aware of them.
“A regular flu vaccine is enough to give you protection against the H1N1 virus which causes swine flu,” says Dr. AK Prasad, Chairman of the Influenza Foundation of India and President of the Indian Virological Society.
Limiting the spread
While Dr. Prasad advises precautions like vaccination, he cautions against panic. The medical masks that accompany most new reports on swine flu don’t actually afford protection against the disease, and there is no reason to wear them. But swine flu is extremely infectious, and patients can spread the virus through their cough, which other people breathe in. For this reason, people who are already infected must wear one when they go out in order to reduce transmission.
Additionally, it’s important to informally quarantine anyone who has flu-like symptoms, even if you’re not certain what kind of flu it is.
“If children have the flu, they should not be sent to school for at least a week to prevent the infection from spreading,” says Dr. Mehta.
He advises schools, playgroups and daycare centres to closely monitor children for signs of infection.
“The virus also settles on tables, books, doorknobs, keyboards and can be transferred to the hands,” he says. “Good cough hygiene involves washing hands frequently, and this will prevent many infections. Avoid crowded places. During an outbreak, birthday parties, school annual functions, convocations should not be held.”