Swine flu: Is it such a big deal?

It need not be, if you take the right precautions at the right time. If left untreated for long, swine flu can assume dangerous proportions.

It was a human pandemic almost a decade ago, but today, swine flu is not as feared as it used to be. However, the disease continues to rear its ugly head every year in India and many other countries around the world. Though it is not as threatening as it used to be, with several vaccines and preventive medication available to combat it, swine flu cannot be treated lightly at all.

Understanding swine flu

There was a widespread outbreak of swine flu in many countries of the world in the year 2009, when several deaths owing to the disease were also reported. Since then, however, the WHO (World Health Organisation) has de-notified the disease from the ‘Dangerous’ category to ‘Highly infectious’ but not fatal.

Swine flu is said to originate from pigs – they develop symptoms of fever, listlessness and wheezing when they contract the virus that causes the flu. Pigs are infected by the H1NI strains of the swine flu virus when they inhale the sneezed or coughed droplets of other pigs. But the disease is not restricted to pigs, and it can become highly infectious to humans. Those in close contact with infected pigs are most at risk, because the disease is transmitted to humans the same way that it is transmitted between pigs. Infected humans may then transmit it to other humans near them.

The swine flu became a global concern in 2009 when a new, virulent strain of the virus emerged and infected humans quite rapidly. In humans, it exhibits symptoms like high fever, cold, cough, wheezing, respiratory trouble and some amount of headache or even body pain. Other symptoms include vomiting and diarrhoea, as also inability to swallow food owing to a sore throat. Among humans, the virus can spread rapidly in much the same way that common cold and flu spread – when an infected human sneezes or coughs without covering their mouth and nose, or when they leave their used tissues around or touch surfaces with droplets of cough on their hands, they can pass the virus easily to others in their vicinity.

The swine flu virus is not fatal to humans, however early detection and correct diagnosis are important to start treatment at once. When left till late, the flu might spread and make the person quite ill. In people who already suffer respiratory distress (for example, asthmatics) the disease can cause acute bronchial failure that might result in choking, gasping for breath and heavy breathlessness.

How to keep safe from swine flu

Good personal hygiene is a key factor in keeping swine flu at bay. All persons handling pigs (those rearing pigs or working on pig farms are at most risk) must wear protective gloves and face masks while at work. Apart from this basic precaution, other steps to take include:

* Keeping the hands clean always. The hands pick up infections and when touched to the eyes, nose or mouth, they transfer the germs to the respiratory tract. If the hands are washed frequently with antibacterial soap like Dettol, then the germs will die out on the skin and not get transmitted to oneself or other humans.

* Cleaning out surfaces of regular use in case of an infection. If a family member has become infected with swine flu, be sure to wipe down all surfaces they may have touched. These include door knobs/handles, landline/mobile phone, computer keyboard, kitchen counters, taps, etc. Use an antibacterial solution or a wipe for this purpose.

* Wash their clothes separately. A person ill with swine flu must be quarantined. Once they are close to recovery, wash their clothing and bed sheets in a separate laundry load, taking care to add a measure of Dettol liquid to the load to remove any lingering traces of the virus.

* Practice simple hygiene. If you or a family member are infected with swine flu, do take precautions to ensure that you don’t transmit the virus to others. Always cover your face when sneezing or coughing, and dispose of used tissues safely. Clean your hands with Dettol hand sanitiser and refrain from shaking hands or touching surfaces of common use while you have the infection.

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