News about the flu, especially swine flu risk, is everywhere. We are in the midst of an active flu season, with several weeks of peak flu activity left. It’s important to understand your flu risk and recognize the symptoms of swine flu so that you can take precautionary measures to protect yourself and others.
The seasonal flu and the swine flu are related in that both are influenza type A viruses. There are three broad categories of human influenza, designated as influenza A, B, and C. Influenza A and B commonly cause illness in human populations, while influenza C strikes less frequently and presents with milder symptoms.
How is the Flu Transmitted?
The flu is a communicable disease, meaning that it can spread from one infected person to another. Influenza viruses, including the seasonal flu and swine flu, are usually transmitted via respiratory air droplets. This is why it is important to cover your cough or sneeze. The tiny virus particles can gain entry via the surface of the respiratory tract, airways, and lungs. Once it establishes itself inside a human host, the virus begins to replicate using human cells as a factory. The cells burst with many copies of the virus, and the cycle can start all over again.
Differences Between the Seasonal Flu and Swine Flu
Specific genetic differences distinguish the new swine flu from regular seasonal flu.
The H1N1 virus consists of genes from several different flu viruses:
- Human influenza
- North American swine influenza
- North American avian influenza
- Two Eurasian swine influenza viruses.
The genetic makeup of swine flu is fairly complex; because of this, health experts initially believed that the virus could easily mutate and become more deadly.
Because the H1N1 virus is an influenza type A virus, the symptoms are very similar to those of the seasonal flu. However, data collected from physicians suggest that swine flu symptoms usually also include diarrhea and vomiting. Fatigue is also reported in nearly every case. To have a definite diagnosis requires a swab sample analyzed by a specific laboratory. Thus, the swine flu is usually diagnosed by examining the pattern of symptoms, proximity to confirmed outbreaks, and contact with similarly ill persons.
Preparing for the Flu/H1N1 Season
Scientists know much about the common cold and regular seasonal flu, but less is known about the new swine flu. This flu season, due to the unpredictability of the swine flu virus, it’s important to stay current with health issues related to infectious diseases. H1N1 risk remains elevated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers essential information to both the general public and health practitioners. The series of articles on this website will assist you in understanding the flu and its potentially serious implications on you, your family, your community, and society.