Everything You Need to Know about Swine Flu

May 4, 2016

Everything You Need to Know about Swine Flu

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The Mayo Clinic defines swine flu as influenza in pigs that occasionally gets transmitted to people. Usually, it does not spread between people after that, but in spring 2009, there was a strain of the swine flu, H1N1, that spread across many parts of the world and was considered a pandemic until August of 2010.

When it was first recognized as a pandemic, there was a scare across different parts of the world because there were originally large numbers of reported associated deaths, but it was soon determined that most had preexisting conditions. At the time of the pandemic, it was a fearful time and many people were concerned with the unknown.

In 2011, there were additional strains of swine flu that infected humans. These were not a pandemic, but still infected people worldwide. H3N2, H3N2v, and H2N2 were all variations of the H1N1 virus. 

How is Swine Flu Different?

The swine flu is actually very similar to the “regular flu” in terms of symptoms and treatment options, but there was one major difference between the two. The H1N1 flu strain mainly affected young people. The median age was around 28 years old. Typically, the flu affects the youngest and oldest populations: those under 5 and over 65, but that was not the case with H1N1.

It was found that seniors had a greater immunity to the flu than younger generations. It is thought to be because they had been exposed to more strains of flu in their lifetime. They could have been exposed to a strain that was similar to the swine flu at an earlier time of their life. Another difference was that the swine flu seemed to spread much quicker than the regular flu. The reason behind this was that most people had not been exposed to anything like it before, so they had no built up immunity.

Swine Flu Today

Today, swine flu is much less of a problem than it was in 2009 and 2010 and then 2011. It is now considered a normal human flu virus and can be prevented and treated like any other seasonal flu virus. Those that have problems fighting it typically have preexisting conditions such as lung disease, diabetes, or HIV/AIDS.

The best prevention method is getting an annual flu shot as well as continually washing your hands and avoiding large groups of people while the flu is prevalent. The vaccines since the 2011-12 flu season have included both the H1N1 and H3N2 antigens. It is spread like other types of influenza: coughing, sneezing, and touching germ-covered surfaces and then touching your face.

It can be diagnosed by your doctor swabbing either your nose or throat and then having a lab examine the cultures.

Treatment is much the same as other types of flu as well. Typically, medications are not necessary unless you have a high risk for additional complications to arise. Those that are not worried about additional consequences should focus on relieving the symptoms, getting plenty of sleep, staying hydrated, and avoiding contact with other people to help prevent the spread of flu. Those that are at high risk for complications can use the antiviral drugs Tamiflu or Relenza. There is a chance of developing a resistance to the drug, so they should only be used when absolutely necessary.

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Frequently Asked Questions

My father has had a cough for sometime now. He insists it's just a cold, but we're worried it could be more. Could it be walking pneumonia?

Yes, it is possible that it could be walking pneumonia, but it could even just be a lingering symptom of a cold like your dad said. However, it is important to know when a cough is more than just a cough because it could actually be a more serious condition like the walking pneumonia you suggested, or chronic obtrusive pulmonary disease (COPD).

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What are some ways that seniors can boost their immune systems against colds and the flu?

The first way that seniors can prevent a cold or flu is by making sure that they receive their flu shot. Maintaining a healthy diet, and especially vitamin C, will also help to keep a senior's immune system in top-notch condition. Combine that with regular exercise to promote circulation and heart health, as well as a regular sleeping cycle and proper hydration and an elderly adult is well on their way to helping their body prevent illness.

Finally, one last word of advice. Seniors should always consult with their doctor before adding any new supplements or vitamins to their regimen.

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