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Swine Flu (H1N1)

Swine Flu, H1N1 Flu, Pandemic Flu

Is the H1N1 Swine flu outbreak over?

Yes. Technically, the Pandemic is over. But H1N1 was the predominant seasonal flu strain in 2010/11 and is likely to remain so for some years to come.

Does seasonal flu vaccine protect against H1N1 Swine flu?

Yes, H1N1 protection is incorporated into seasonal flu vaccines, including the northern hemisphere vaccine for 2013/2014.

What is a Pandemic?

A pandemic is a global outbreak or epidemic. In the case of flu viruses, pandemics typically appear about three times in every century when a strain emerges against which humans have no immunity.

In recent times unfortunately we have become used to thinking of flu as being a minor illness. Much more serious infections are possible however - as with human cases of H5N1 that have recently occurred and with the 1918-19 pandemic strain.

The biggest human pandemic in the 20th Century occurred in 1918-19 resulting in approximately 50 million deaths worldwide.

Although a mutation from H5N1 Avian flu seemed for several years to be the most likely source of a pandemic flu virus, experts remained concerned that a pandemic virus might yet emerge from an entirely different source, making careful surveillance of flu viruses a global imperative. This is what has ultimately happened with H1N1 Swine flu.

What is Swine flu?

Flu occurs in many animal species as well as in humans, such as horses, pigs and birds, but flu strains normally circulate only among members of their habitual host species. Occasionally a new strain emerges that is capable of making the leap from one species to another. This has now happened with swine flu: the new strain appears to have "hybrid" characteristics of pig, avian and human flu, with the added ability of now being able to circulate easily between humans.

How is it spread?

It spreads in exactly the same way as "normal" seasonal flu - by inhalation and via contaminated objects (for example, by touching them and then bringing your hand to your mouth).

How serious is it?

For most people, the illness has been mild. However, some people certainly did suffer a serious outcome, including healthy young adults without predisposing risk factors, and pregnant women. This is in contrast to the usual pattern with seasonal flu, that has affected the elderly more severely.

How can it be prevented?

Anyone in a high risk group should be vaccinated.

What are the early symptoms of swine flu?

Fever, malaise, respiratory difficulties, and all the symptoms of "normal" flu.