The high alert raised by the World Health Organization (WHO), placing the current incidence of swine flu one level below Pandemic, may sound scary but it could be because the H1N1 virus seems very similar to the deadly Spanish flu virus that let almost 50 million people dead in 1918. But then experts believe there can be no comparison, as understanding of diseases, their transmission and the checks that are put in place is completely different now than it was a century ago. Our public health disaster response – screening, quarantine and awareness campaigns are all far advanced.
So far, 15 countries have reported human infections of the multi-strain swine flu and a little more than 100 people have died from the infection, mostly in Mexico, which is where the outbreak of swine flu started.
What Is Swine Flu?
Swine Flu or swine influenza is a respiratory disease that causes influenza in pigs. Although, these viruses may be present among swine all around the year, the outbreaks usually occur during the fall and winter months just like influenza strikes humans during these months.
Are Pig Farms Responsible For This Outbreak Of Swine Flu?
While swine flu viruses are not generally said to infect humans, there have been a few human infections here and there. These infections have mostly occurred in people who are directly exposed to pigs. Even in the past, there have been a few cases where one person spread swine flu to other people. There was supposedly an outbreak of swine flu in 1988 in pigs and it lead to human infections. It was also documented that health care workers taking care of the patients with swine flu suffered from the transmission of the virus. However, there has never before been a community outbreak.
In this outbreak, Edgar Hernandez from Mexico is the first confirmed case of swine flu. He is said to have been infected from a gigantic pig farm in Mexico, which is one of the chain of pig farms that are controlled by Smithfield, one of the world’s biggest pig breeders and pork processors. Each of these pig farms has about 50,000 pigs.
After the break of swine flu, Smithfield issued a statement saying their facilities are not the origin of the current swine flu epidemic. The samples are being tested at the University of Mexico.
The question that is being asked is whether a pig farm can generate such new virus strains? Experts are of the opinion that it is very difficult to identify the exact source of origin of a virus. The larger the farm the more swine viruses that are present and there is more interaction between pigs and humans, leading to a higher likelihood of transfer of the virus from pigs to humans.
It is said that with such large numbers of pigs, the excreta produced is thousands of gallons, and this is toxic not only because of the different kinds of bacteria and viruses but also because of the cocktail of chemicals that are pumped into the pigs as well as the chemicals used to clean up their pens. The excreta along with dead pigs, is stored in huge lagoons surrounding the farms, and has been seen to seep into the groundwater and overflow during rains. Smithfield holds has been held responsible for environmental pollution on 23 counts, including the destruction of many river systems in North Carolina, and had to pay the biggest ever penalties in 2000.
So the likelihood that the swine flu outbreak, which is just a breath away from being declared a global pandemic, is a result of corporate greed and negligence, according to reports.
Are Pork Products Safe?
WHO made it very clear that no influenza viruses are capable of surviving the heat at which pork is normally cooked. According to WHO’s food safety scientist, influenza viruses are not known to be transmissible to people through eating processed pork, so that makes not only cooked pork but also processed pork products like ham, bacon, sausages and salami completely safe to for consumption.
Swine Flu Vaccine
WHO revealed that N1H1 is a new strain of swine influenza virus, and there is no vaccine to contain it yet. Scientists have started working on the vaccine, which may take another 6 to 9 months for the whole process to complete; which includes first identifying the organism and then commercialization.
The infected person should receive treatment within 48 hours. Beyond this period, the virus gets inside the cells and drugs will fail to act and prevent it. Prompt treatment is very important. If a passenger who has swine flu travels in a flight, there is a big risk of transmitting it to other passengers just like seasonal flu through sneezing or coughing.
Symptoms For Swine Flu
The symptoms are said to be similar to the seasonal influenza; which includes fever coughing, lack of appetite and lethargy. Some people with swine fly were also seen to have a sore throat, runny nose, vomiting, nausea and diarrhea.
Precautions To Be Taken
People may become infected if they touch something that has flu viruses (through sneezing and coughing) on it and touch their nose or mouth with the same hand.
It is advised to:
• Wash hands frequently
• Avoid contact with infected persons and animals
• Stay away from people with cold or influenza like symptoms
• Stay away from pigs
• Avoid touching the mouth or nose without washing hands
There are two main tasks at hand; one is to break the cycle of transmission of the virus and the other is to develop a vaccine. Towards breaking the cycle, passengers are being screened at airports and people are warned of the flu-affected areas. Hundreds of people were quarantined in a Hong Kong Hotel after a Mexican tested positive for the deadly flu. Scientists at various centers have already started working on the vaccine and it should be a matter of months before they have a solution for this and hopefully, before it turns into a pandemic.