Disease Origins

The Source of Diseases

What causes Swine Flu?

Will I Get Swine Flu From Eating Pork or Birds, or From Being Exposed to Rat Feces?
This is considered the “panic question” during the swine flu pandemic. It was asked in the midst of the h1n1 chaos. It was actually the second “most popular” question though, because the first one is “what is the cure for h1n1?” So many people flocked to pharmacies and bought antivirals without knowing the proper indications for one. Antivirals for h1n1 include oseltamivir (more commonly known as Tamiflu) and zanamivir which were out of stock during the flu frenzy. People do not know that these antivirals were only effective during the first 48 hours of having swine flu.

An ounce of prevention is way beyond a pound of cure.

It is actually a modification for “prevention is better than cure”. Always take note that it had become a dictum in medicine and public health. It never would have gained the pedestal without a drop of truth into it. Prevention is always a lot cheaper and entails less effort than the cure to swine flu. You will not lose work days, not lose money to antibiotics, and never feel uncomfortable. Seasonal flu, what we often get yearly and is caused by a relative of h1n1, is calculated to cost you $130 to see a doctor and get medicines. This does not include your time off from work and hospitalizations, if ever you got worse.

Definition of confusing terms

It may have confused you listening to all those technical stuff your friendly physician told you while trying to explain why you need to get a flu shot, or any vaccine for that matter. This article would try to clarify these, or confuse you more. Let us start with the virus. Viruses are pathogens. Pathogens are anything that causes disease like swine flu from h1n1. Viruses are actually just proteins and are not considered living organisms. A body can remember a virus that has once infected it if its immunity us intact (this is actually the principle behind vaccines). Vaccines are made in such a way that the body produces immunity against h1n1 without actually giving the virus itself. When you have been vaccinated, you would not have symptoms of swine flu as long as you have been infected within the indicated duration of effectiveness of that vaccine (this length of time actually varies with the vaccine, for example just 1 year for a flu shot). Confused or clarified?

How do I not get swine flu?

This is considered the “wise question”. Not many ask it though, because it is a negative question, answered when you negate all the answers from the first question (sounds logical). You already know about one form of primary prevention against influenza especially h1n1, getting the flu shot. To further defend the point and convince you to getting your annual flu shot, it is actually a lot cheaper than having to get immunity from getting yourself infected with swine flu.

Swine flu is actually a near “relative” of the seasonal flu. Technically speaking about h1n1, the causative agent behind swine flu is an influenza virus. Influenza a, where h1n1 is a subtype, has a lot of other subtypes which cause a lot of pandemics and epidemics  like swine flu, avian flu and seasonal flu. H1n1 and other influenza viruses are mainly transmitted from person to person through airborne droplets. Basically, you have to remember your cough ethics when you are sick. Better not go to work or school when you are sick with swine flu, have mercy on your peers and colleagues especially when they have children, elderly or chronically sick people at their homes.

Washing your hands should never be just a childhood memory (it can save lives! And money!). Remember that h1n1 can survive in contaminated hands and surfaces. They are also the best ways to share love and swine flu. Take note about the range of viral and bacterial diseases you can prevent acquiring just by washing your hands. To make this a lot easier than actually timing your washing, you can sing “Happy Birthday” twice and that would take you five minutes. Trying it is preventing swine flu in a big way.

Can I really get h1n1 and swine flu from rat droppings and from eating swine or birds?

If this is the reason why you read the article, then it is worth your time to stick till the end. It is very important to read the information above to know the basics of swine flu and h1n1 rather than read only this part.

Swine flu is named so because it is the same strain that was identified to make pigs sick. The same origin goes for avian flu. For the former, it was h1n1,the latter, h5n1 (a “relative”). So to answer the question partly, h1n1 and other influenza viruses can be acquired from swine and birds.

You see, birds are considered reservoirs of influenza. Which means that they carried h1n1 but do not actually get sick with the disease (birds with swine flu). What is much worse is that migratory aquatic birds, and not just airplanes with people, carried h1n1 all over the world and made the largest and most severe outbreaks on the record.

Now from migratory birds h1n1, or any influenza virus made its way to ducks, multiplied in cells lining its intestinal tract and are present in the feces released into the water. Then h1n1 goes on to infect other domesticated animals such as pigs and chickens. To go on with the adventure of h1n1, it has infected pigs, re-assorted itself into something that humans and other mammals can get sick with and manifested into something deadly for mammals and leave some bird species unaffected with swine flu. It has become something that made every one of us vulnerable to swine flu. Domesticated animals, has been an integral part in the cycle of mammal involvement with the influenza h1n1 transmission.  Contact with infected pigs or any environment with swine flu makes one a viral source.

However, there are researches last 2009 that claim that the level of transmissibility of influenza through hog waste is actually unknown. Even textbooks seldom mention the exact mechanism of viral transmission of h1n1 between pigs and humans. The degree of intimacy of contact was not really elaborated. Which means that scientists have to continue to monitor swine flu as it caused the deadliest pandemics in history. It is just now that we have discovered that our pets actually play the best supportive role in its worldwide transmission.

Rats were never specifically mentioned in textbooks as playing a part in the transmission of h1n1. As a mammal, it may also be at risk for other future influenza reassortments. We’ll never know, there might be a rat flu in the future, as we are all aware about influenza’s virulence. A hundred years ago, nobody may have imagined a disease called swine flu.