The recent outbreak of Swine influenza, by a new subtype of the A H1N1 virus, originated in Mexico and severe respiratory illness was first reported in March.
Cases have since been confirmed in the United States and Canada. On April 25, the World Health Organization reported the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
Several countries have issued non-essential travel advisories to Mexico. Check your national public health agency for updated information.
The extent of the current outbreak in humans is still unknown; this new viral subtype has not been previously detected in pigs or humans. Swine flu is common in pig populations and the infection is known to be transmitted from pigs to humans. The search now, is for scientists and public health experts to figure out how this viral subtype jumped from pigs to humans and why it is spreading so quickly.
Traditionally, persons working in close contact with pigs such as farmers, veterinarians, and abattoir workers are at higher risk of contracting swine flu. Industrialized food production, where animals are kept in crowded and unsanitary conditions on factory farms, increases the risk of rapid infection among animals and transmission to humans. So does our globalized work force and international travel. The concern among public health officials is how fast transmission occurs among humans potentially leading to a global pandemic.
In all the American and Canadian cases, patients have fully recovered from the infection. It is believed that the outbreak is now in its 2nd and 3rd generation, infecting more people. In Mexico, the strain seems to be more virulent or stronger, and has been fatal. People with pre-existing health conditions are at higher risk and contracting swine flu may worsen their situation.
If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms (coughing, sneezing, sore throat, fever and chills, headache, and general fatigue, including diarrhea, vomiting, or problems breathing) contact your doctor or healthcare provider immediately and limit your exposure to healthy people. There are currently no vaccines to prevent swine flu. It is believed however, that those who have had their seasonal flu shot may experience a milder form of the infection.
The best prevention measures include regularly and thoroughly washing your hands, reducing stress, staying healthy, and covering your coughs and sneezes. If you are in crowded public areas, you may want to wear a mask to cover your mouth and nose. Until we get more information about the nature of this outbreak, continue doing what you always do to stay healthy and prevent illness.
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