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Disease profile: Swine flu

Swine flu is a relatively recent phenomenon. The first known outbreak originated in Mexico in April 2009. The disease’s official name is H1N1. However, it is more commonly known as “swine flu” owing to the fact that this strain of the flu is similar to one that affects pigs.

The disease spread rapidly from the initial outbreak in Mexico, crossing borders to become a worldwide issue. Very few young people were immunised against this strain, implicated in the disease’s rapid spread across the globe.

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The initial outbreak was deemed a pandemic, though it was ultimately less impactful than it was predicted to be. Serious cases were observed in some children, young adults, pregnant women and those with preexisting conditions, though this is not abnormal for a severe flu outbreak.

The disease is seen as less of a threat now that immunity levels have risen and vaccines are in circulation. However, India continues to see large-scale outbreaks.

In 2017, for example, 38,811 swine flu cases were recorded. 2018 is currently witnessing an outbreak, though to a far lesser scale. Swine flu is prevalent across a number of states and occurs across the year with peaks during flu season.




The symptoms of swine flu are similar to that of those of other strains of flu. Fever, chills, a cough, headaches, a sore throat and body aches are normal symptoms.

State officials in Karnataka have distinguished three categories of patients as a guideline to treatment. Category A and B patients may experience normal flu symptoms as noted above. Medication or hospitalisations is not deemed necessary at this stage. Category B patients are deemed to be at greater risk due to pre-existing conditions. This may be more common in the elderly.

Category C is the most severe category of patient. The symptoms involved may include breathlessness, chest pain, drowsiness, fall in blood pressure, sputum mixed with blood or bluish discolouration of nails. These patients are in need of hospitalisation.


Prevention and treatment


Swine flu outbreaks can be avoided if immunisation levels are high. Vaccinations are provided in India and are recommended for any vulnerable individual such as the elderly or children. The disease may also be isolated through avoidance of infected individuals or even infected pigs.

The majority of people will recover naturally and without treatment, as with many other strains of flu. However, where treatment is needed, some medications exist such as adamantanes, including amantadine and rimantadine, and medications that inhibit the influenza neuraminidase protein, such as oseltamivir and zanamivir.

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