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Fast Facts about Swine Flu

written by: •edited by: Paul Arnold•updated: 12/11/2009

Swine flu is a serious disease that is sweeping the globe and is caused by several types of swine influenza virus. It is a major public health concern and the overwhelming majority of people who are infected make a full recovery. Find out more key facts about swine flu in the article below.

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    Essential Facts about Swine Flu

    • Swine flu is a highly infectious strain of the influenza virus.
    • The 2009 outbreak was first identified in Mexico in April 2009.
    • Swine flu belongs to the same group of viruses that are responsible for regular flu outbreaks in humans. They are given the "H1N1" designation, although swine flu is caused by different strains. The letters "H" and "N" stand for two proteins found on the surface of the virus - hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N).
    • Hemagglutinin is a spike-shaped protein that binds to host cells. Neuraminidase ensures the virus doesn't get stuck when it leaves infected cells.
    • Swine flu spreads in the same way as seasonal flu - from person-to-person. It is caught through coughing and sneezing when infected drops are expelled and either inhaled or caught by contact with contaminated surfaces.

    PD Diagram of swine flu symptoms - image released into the public domain by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

    • The virus was originally called "swine flu" because it is thought to have originated in pigs, and some its genes are similar to the genes of the influenza viruses that affect pigs. The latest version also contains genes that are found in strains that infect birds.
    • On June 11th, 2009 the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared that a swine flu pandemic is underway. A pandemic means that it has spread around the globe.
    • Flu pandemics are natural events that occur intermittently. During the last century there were pandemics in 1918, 1957, and 1968.
    • Typical symptoms of swine flu are similar to those of seasonal flu and include - fever, cough, sore throat, aches and chills.
    • For most people infection with swine flu is mild and 98% of infected persons recover.
    • Certain groups are known to be at higher risk including people with underlying serious health problems, pregnant women and the elderly.
    • By November 27th 2009 at least 7,826 people are known to have died following infection with H1N1 since it emerged the previous April.

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    Additional Swine Flu Info

    According to the World Health Organization (June 2009) there are no known cases of people becoming infected after coming into contact with pigs or other animals.

    Why are people so concerned about swine flu?

    Seasonal flu viruses change every year and most people will have some form of immunity to them. However, even though recovery from swine flu is generally very good the concern is due to the fact that it is a new virus that people will have little or no immunity to. Therefore the incidence of infections could be much greater than seasonal flu.

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