HT Explainer: What is H1N1 and why is its called swine flu?
Everything you need to know about swine flu, which has killed two in Mohali in the last two months.punjab Updated: Feb 19, 2018 14:58 IST
In less than two months, two out of four persons diagnosed with swine flu have died in SAS Nagar, one child has been tested positive for the virus in Chandigarh and cases are being reported daily from adjoining states at the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER).
“December to March is the usual time when this virus becomes active and a large number of cases are reported. The previous year was an exception as several cases were reported in July and August due to change in the virus strain,” said Dr Gagandeep Singh, nodal officer, H1N1, Punjab.
About 56 persons from Chandigarh alone were diagnosed with swine flu in 2017, six of whom died. In Punjab, 239 people tested positive in 2017 of which 72 died.
Nine people have died so far because of the ailment in Punjab this year.
What is H1N1?
The human respiratory infection caused by a particular influenza virus H1N1 strain — known as the swine flu — was first recognised in US in 2009. As it spread across countries within months the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared it a global pandemic in August 2010.
The virus circulates as a seasonal flu and every year, infecting hundreds of people.
Why it is called swine flu?
Initially, this virus was referred to as ‘swine flu’ because many genes in the virus were quite similar to influenza viruses which normally occur in pigs (swine) in North America. But further studies showed that the 2009 H1N1 was different. This virus was a result of ‘reassortment’, a process through which two or more influenza viruses share genetic information by infecting a single human or animal host.
Can one get swine flu by eating pork?
Is it contagious?
Yes, and it spreads from one infected human to another through coughing, sneezing or talking. People can get infected by first touching a surface or object which has the virus and then touching their nose or mouth.
How this virus acts
The virus enters the human body when one inhales contaminated droplets or transfers live virus from a contaminated surface to one’s eyes, nose or mouth. It infects cells lining the nose, throat and lungs.
What are its symptoms?
H1N1 flu symptoms are similar to those of other flu strains and develop around one to three days after a person gets exposed to the virus.
The symptoms are fever (but not always), cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, watery and red eyes, body aches, headache, fatigue, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting.
When should one visit a hospital?
A study last year found that all those who had died due to H1N1 in the state had reported to the hospital with a delay of at least seven days, says Dr Gagandeep Singh. “Hence, it is very important for patients to reach the hospital in time,” he advises.
“If a person has a high-grade fever and has difficulty breathing then he or she must visit a doctor. Apart from this, people who have flu symptoms, pregnant women, or those with chronic diseases such as asthma, diabetes or heart conditions, should also visit a doctor,” he says.
Can it lead to complications?
Influenza can cause complications like worsening of chronic conditions such as heart diseases and asthma, pneumonia, neurological signs and symptoms, ranging from confusion to seizures and ultimately to failure of respiratory organs.
Preventive measures one can take
"There is a vaccine, which people can be advised to use if they are more exposed to the virus and among vulnerable groups,” says a doctor from the UT health department.
Other preventive measures?
If people are suffering from the flu, it can be transferred to others so it’s advisable that they stay at home. Doctors advise people to not move out of home for at least 24 hours after the fever subsides.
One should thoroughly and frequently wash hands, follow coughing etiquette and to avoid contamination, use napkins or handkerchiefs while coughing or sneezing. Venturing into crowded places should also be avoided.
Helpline for Chandigarh residents: 977-955-8282