Mistaking Swine Flu for Zik V
Philippa writes to Check Up saying: "I've been down with flu for three weeks now and still feel weak. I have a bad cough, too. During this time, my dad got sick with it and is being treated for pneumonia, and another friend got sent home by her doctor this week with pneumonia. She told me she had a fever and bad cold and cough which wasn't going away. She got so weak that she visited her doctor, who told her she had flu and pneumonia, put her on antibiotics and wheezing medication and sent her home. Plenty people at work are also sick! What's up, doc? Could this be ZIKV?"
ZIKV does not have much respiratory symptoms. It is much more likely to be swine flu, aka H1N1. It seems like the H1N1 swine flu is back in Jamaica. This is also a virus, but is not spread by mosquito bites. The virus spreads when you touch an infected surface or breathe cough and sneeze droplets which someone nearby is producing. The symptoms are much the same initially as the regular flu:
• Sore throat
• Body aches
• Stuffy or runny nose
If you are infected, you can be contagious for up to 10 days. When infected people cough or sneeze without covering their mouth and nose, they spray drops of the virus into the air, which may be inhaled by nearby persons or which fall on to surfaces which other people touch. That hand later goes to the face or mouth or to a door knob, which other people touch, and the virus is spread further. The H1N1 virus can survive on surfaces for up to eight hours! People with swine flu can actually begin spreading the virus one day before the symptoms occur, so if a person has been exposed to swine flu, they should take care to wash their hands often and not share drinking glasses with anyone until they are sure they have not caught the virus.
Like the regular flu, swine flu can sometimes cause more serious complications like breathing problems, lung infection and pneumonia. It can be especially problematic in the elderly and in people who suffer with other conditions like diabetes or asthma. If further symptoms develop in a person with a flu-like illness, such as vomiting, abdominal pain or dizziness, they should visit their doctor to get a check-up and medication as soon as possible. It is more likely that these complications will develop with swine flu than with regular seasonal flu. Taking antibiotics really doesn't help much as the disease is caused by a virus and not by bacteria (which is what antibiotics treat).
Taking over-the-counter pain and flu preparations which help relieve pain, fever, cough and cold will be adequate treatment for most persons who contract the virus but give special attention to children, the elderly, pregnant women and persons with poor immunity, e.g., people taking cancer chemotherapy treatment, ill persons, persons who are HIV-positive and persons who have chronic diseases like diabetes and asthma. Adults and children with chronic lung, heart, liver, blood, nervous system and metabolic disorders are also more at risk to contract H1N1 swine flu virus and are best not mixing too much with the general public in crowded areas where they may become exposed.
The best preventive method available at this time is to obtain the 'flu shot'. The same flu vaccine which protects against the seasonal flu also gives some protection against the H1N1 swine flu virus strain. It works by teaching your immune system to attack the real virus. At-risk persons should get the flu shot (vaccine) every year.
There are other precautions which can be taken:
• Wash hands often with soap and water when dealing with the public.
• Avoid touching your face when possibly exposed.
• Avoid sharing close spaces with anyone who seems ill with a cough.
• People who are sick with H1N1 should be encouraged to stay home for about a week.
Antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu, Rapivab and Relenza seem to assist very ill persons to feel better. They work best when taken within the first 48 hours after symptoms occur and can treat or even prevent swine flu. These drugs are, however, very costly and not widely available. The best choice is to take the flu shot.
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